President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said that Turkey will expand military operations in Syria, east of the Euphrates River, where US forces are also based.
Erdoğan said in a speech in Ankara yesterday that the operation will begin in the next few days. “Our target is not the American soldiers – it is the terror organisations that are active in the region. This step will allow for the path to a political solution to be opened and for healthier cooperation,” he said.
The US has established several observation posts along the border with Turkey in the past few weeks, seeking to protect territory it controls in conjunction with fighters of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey designates as terrorists. Washington says the YPG are essential in the continuing fight against ISIS in Syria. Erdoğan said yesterday that the Americans “are not being honest; they are still not removing terrorists [US backed fighters] [from Manbij]. Therefore, we will do it”.
Turkey has not attempted to cross to the eastern bank of the Euphrates River where 2,000 US troops are based, despite voicing frustrations about what it says are delays in the implementation of a deal with the US to clear the YPG from the town of Manbij, just west of the Euphrates. Erdogan claims that Turkey is not being protected from terrorists but “terrorists [are] being protected” from possible action by Turkey.
Speaking about the imminent Turkish operation, US Commander Sean Robertson said: “Unilateral military action into north-east Syria by any party, particularly as US personnel may be present or in the vicinity, is of grave concern. We would find any such actions unacceptable.”
In January, Turkey and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a Turkish-backed armed Syrian opposition group, launched Operation Euphrates Shield in the Afrin district in northern Syria in an attempt to remove Kurdish fighters.