Turkish forces and Syrian rebel allies will cross the border with Syria “shortly”, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s communications director said, as Turkey looks to begin a military intervention against Kurdish-led forces in northeast Syria.
Turkey has been poised to advance into northeast Syria since US troops began vacating the area on Sunday in an abrupt policy shift by US President Donald Trump that was widely criticised in Washington as a betrayal of the US’s allies, the Kurds.
“The Turkish military, together with the Free Syrian Army, will cross the Turkish-Syrian border shortly,” Fahrettin Altun said in a Washington Post column published on Wednesday.
“Turkey has no ambition in northeastern Syria except to neutralise a long-standing threat against Turkish citizens and to liberate the local population from the yoke of armed thugs,” he wrote.
The Turkish military was expected to team up with the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), with which it worked previously in two other operations in northern Syria in recent years.
Altun added fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) – an armed group Turkey considers a “terrorist” organisation – in Syria could either defect or Ankara would have to “stop them from disrupting” Turkey’s struggle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) armed group.
Turkey has said it intends to create a “safe zone” in order to return millions of refugees to Syrian soil, but the scheme has alarmed some Western allies and military analysts as much as the risks posed by the military operation itself.
On Wednesday, Turkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, as quoted by broadcaster NTV, said Turkey’s preparations and deployments for its planned military offensive are continuing.