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Turkey Edges Toward Syria Incursion as Erdogan Meets Army

·3 min read

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Turkey signaled it’s near a fresh incursion into Syria against Kurdish forces backed by the US after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan chaired a four-hour meeting with top generals on Thursday.

“Existing and new operations to be carried out are aimed at clearing our southern borders from the threat of terrorism,” Turkey’s National Security Council, a body that comprises civilian and military leaders, said in a statement. It was referring to an ongoing offensive in northern Iraq against Kurdish PKK militants and the threat of a cross-border attack by Turkey against their YPG offshoot in northern Syria.

“They are necessary for our security and in no way violate the territorial integrity or sovereignity our neighbors,” the council said.

Turkey has long been preparing for an offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria that could put pressure on the US to rein in the militants. At the same time Turkey has mounted opposition to the admission of Sweden and Finland into NATO, accusing them of supporting Kurdish groups who’ve been battling Turkey for decades.

“Turkey expects its allies to cease supporting terrorism in line with Turkey’s security sensitivities,” the council said.

Turkey Urges Action After NATO Talks With Sweden and Finland

Erdogan on Monday said Turkey will “soon take new steps” to push back Kurdish YPG fighters from areas they still control along the border. Ankara regards the YPG as a threat because of their link to separatist PKK Kurdish militants in Turkey.

Rallying Cause?

A campaign against the Kurdish forces could help Erdogan consolidate the support of Turkish nationalists and conservatives at a time when soaring inflation threatens his popularity ahead of elections next year. But it also risks a standoff with the US that could hurt the lira, this year’s worst-performing major currency.

Turkey shelled YPG positions across the border earlier this month after the group staged a rocket attack on a Turkish army border outpost, killing one soldier and wounding three. The US condemned the killings but also expressed deep concern over a new military drive by Turkey. On Tuesday the State Department said any new offensive would further undermine regional stability and put at risk US forces in a campaign against ultra-hardline Islamic State militants.

“We believe it’s crucial for all sides to maintain and to respect the ceasefire zones,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said. “We expect Turkey to live up to the October 2019 joint statement, including to halt offensive operations in northeast Syria.”

Understanding the Feuds Plaguing U.S.-Turkey Alliance: QuickTake

Ankara agreed separate cease-fire agreements with the U.S. and Russia in 2019 and hit the brakes on a planned incursion. Turkey has repeatedly accused both countries, which have forces stationed there, of not fulfilling their promises to force the YPG to withdraw at least 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the Turkish border.

The Kurdish forces played a major role in the U.S.-led effort to quell Islamic State in Syria, and Washington’s support for Turkey’s enemy has been a major point of contention. The PKK is classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union whereas only Turkey considers affiliated YPG militants as terrorists.

(Updates with statement from Turkey’s National Security Council starting in second paragraph)

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