ANKARA,— Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday threatened to attack the Kurdish town of Afrin in Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) in northern Syria “in the days ahead” to clear it of “terrorists”.
“We will continue our operations begun with Operation Euphrates Shield to clean our southern borders of terror in Afrin (northern Syria) in the days ahead god willing,” Erdogan said in a televised speech.
“The slightest disturbance on the border would be the signal for us to take a step.”
The president referred to Turkey’s previous eight-month military operation launched in August 2016 against the Syrian Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) militia and reportedly against Islamic State (IS) extremist group.
It ended in March last year.
Late last year, Turkish troops were then deployed to rebel-held northern Idlib province, south of Afrin, as part of an agreement with Iran and Russia to implement four so-called de-escalation zones in flashpoint areas around Syria.
Erdogan has repeatedly said that Afrin should be cleared of “terrorists” and in November 2016, he said Turkish troops needed to be deployed there.
Afrin is controlled by Kurdish YPG militia considered by Ankara to be a terror group linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) waging an insurgency inside Turkey.
The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.
United States regards the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its powerful military wing YPG, as key ally against Islamic State and the most effective fighting force against IS in Syria and has provided them with arms, air support as well as the military advisers.
The YPG, which has 60,000 fighters, has seized swathes of Syria from IS.
The issue is among many causing tense relations between Ankara and Washington, though Turkish officials said in November that US President Donald Trump apparently told them Washington would no longer supply weapons to the YPG.
“I hope that during an Afrin operation, these powers will not make the mistake of appearing to be on the same side as a terror organisation,” Erdogan said in an apparent reference to the US during the rally in the northern Turkish city of Tokat.
He added he hoped Turkey “would take action together” with its allies.
Since December, Ankara has reinforced its southern border in Hatay and sent armoured vehicles, tanks and howitzers, sources told Hurriyet daily.
Turkey has been working closely with Russia and Iran to end the nearly seven-year Syrian conflict despite Moscow and Tehran supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Ankara supporting the anti-Assad opposition.
Ankara fears the creation of a Kurdish state in Syrian Kurdistan could encourage separatism amongst its own Kurds.
Analysts say Turkey is using “security threat” as pretext to invade the Syrian Kurdish region in order not allow Kurds to connect the three cantons of Syrian Kurdistan together.
Syrian Kurdistan’s ruling PYD has established three autonomous zones, or Cantons of Jazeera, Kobani and Afrin and a Kurdish government across Syrian Kurdistan in 2013.
On March 17, 2016 Syria’s Kurds declared a federal region in Syrian Kurdistan.
On December 29, 2016 Syrian Kurds and their allies approved a blueprint for a system of federal government in Syrian Kurdistan.
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