Turkey will “never step back” from its resolve to conduct cross-border operations in Syria and Iraq, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said at a Ramadan dinner event in the southeastern border province of Şanlıurfa (Riha) on Sunday.
“We can never be safe whilst a terrorist element continues to be equipped with air and land power and asymmetric weapons in Syria and the north of Iraq,” Erdoğan said, alluding to Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the main boots-on-the-ground in the US-led global coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS).
Turkish officials have been voicing discontent with Washington’s continued support for Syrian Kurds in the northernmost part of the war-torn country, and a Turkish drone strike in early April targeted SDF commander Mazloum Abdi, US troops, and officials from Iraqi Kurdistan’s Counter-Terrorism Group.
Erdoğan’s election campaign has leaned heavily on the security policies of his Justice and Development Party (AKP), with the president frequently accusing his challenger in the coming 14 May elections, the main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, of “standing with terrorist organisations”, an accusation he repeated also at this event.
Turkey’s national security “starts beyond our borders”, Erdoğan said. “If there are terrorists in Ayn al-Arab, how could Suruç be safe? If Tel Abyad is unstable, how could Akçakale live in peace?”
The Kurdish town of Kobanî, called Ayn al-Arab in Arabic, is a small town emblematic of the Kurdish political project throughout the decade-long civil war, both because of the societal structures established by the local autonomous administration, and the residents’ legendary resistance against ISIS. Suruç, the twin town across the border between Turkey and Syria, was the site of a devastating ISIS massacre when a suicide bomber killed dozens of activists on their way to Kobanî to aid rebuilding efforts.
“We will never accept anybody, no global or local actor, to look us in the eye and put the security of our country at risk,” the president continued. “We have shown our resolve in this matter countless times, making it clear that our country will not live with terrorism or next to it, via our operations both within and outside of our borders.”
Turkey considers the SDF and its main constituent the People’s Defence Units (YPG) to be offshoots of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), designating all three as terrorist organisations. While many members of the global coalition against ISIS also designate the PKK a terrorist organisation, they recognise the SDF and YPG as separate entities.