Ankara reiterated that it will not allow PKK-affiliated groups to establish a terrorist corridor on its southern border which would threaten Turkey's border security and peace.
"Turkey will again take matters into its own hands to foil any attempts of forming a terror corridor as it did during the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations, without being intimidated from any threats," Presidency's Communications Director Fahrettin Altun said in an interview published on Friday in a monthly magazine.
Turkey carried out two crossborder operations, Operation Euphrates Shield launched in August 2016 and Operation Olive Branch in January 2018, to drive terrorist groups, including the PKK's Syrian affiliate People's Protection Units (YPG) and Daesh, away from its borders.
While the country liberated northwestern territories from Daesh terrorism, it also prevented the YPG from establishing a de facto autonomous region in Syria by connecting the northwestern Afrin canton to the Kobani and Jazeera cantons in the northeast, which Ankara describes as a "terror corridor" posing a grave security threat to its national security.
Speaking on a possible operation east of the Euphrates river to eliminate YPG terrorism, Altun indicated that Turkey's main aims are to drain the terror swamp near its border, the protection of Syria's territorial integrity and ensuring political stability.
Turkey had long signaled a possible operation in the areas held by the YPG east of the Euphrates. However, the government decided to postpone the operation for a while after U.S. President Donald Trump decided that Washington, the main backer of the terrorist group, would withdraw its troops from Syria.
Trump on Dec. 19 announced the withdrawal of 2,000 troops from Syria; however, he later said the pullout would not immediately take effect.
Despite the U.S. president's determination on withdrawal, the U.S. Senate advanced largely symbolic legislation Thursday, opposing plans to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan, in opposition of Trump.
The Senate voted 68-23 in favor of a nonbinding amendment drafted by Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, saying it was the understanding of the Senate that "Islamic militant groups" in both countries continue to pose a serious threat to the U.S.
A safe zone without Turkey not possible
While Washington continues preparations for withdrawal despite dissident voices, it has been holding talks with Ankara and discussing a plan to form a safe zone. Turkey has stressed that the zone must be free of terrorists to ensure its border security and to enable the return of the Syrian refugees.
However, a report published in The Wall Street Journal reported that "the U.S. is holding talks with its allies the U.K., France and Australia to help create a 32-kilometer-wide buffer zone" between the Turkish border and YPG forces in northern Syria, citing anonymous sources in the White House. However, it is highly unlikely that Ankara will accept such a move as it wants to be the main country controlling the planned zone to prevent YPG infiltration.
Speaking on the issue, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) spokesperson Ömer Çelik said Friday that there could not be a safe zone without Turkey. "It wouldn't be safe though without Turkey, as it is the most prominent power in the fight against terrorism in the region. The most successful military campaign against Daesh was been carried out by Turkey," he said in a TV interview.
Some officials called on the U.S. president to halt the withdrawal, demanding Washington protect "Kurds" from Turkey. Yet, Ankara says it is a big mistake equating Kurdish people with the YPG terrorist organization as they are among the people who have suffered from the YPG's oppressive practices.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan previously expressed that he sees what is taking place in Syria "as the remnants of the [Barack] Obama era, with U.S. commanders in the region persisting" on policies of the Trump administration.
Pointing out that the reckless attitude of the Obama administration for Turkey's national security concerns forced Ankara to take necessary steps, Altun said that some positive developments have emerged on the YPG issue, but Turkey will closely monitor whether the U.S. will implement its promises.
The close U.S. partnership with the YPG since the former Obama administration has always been a sticking point in Washington-Ankara relations. Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of the PKK, a group that has claimed the lives of more than 40,000 people in its 30-year terror campaign against Turkey. The U.S., however, while listing the PKK as a terrorist group, opted to continue its steadfast militarily support for the terrorist organization under the pretext of fighting Daesh, despite warnings that the YPG does not represent Syrian Kurds.
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