The timing of a new military operation into northern Syria can only be decided by Turkey, and Ankara does not need any other state’s permission or consent for moves to protect the country’s own interests, one of Erdoğan’s top aides said on Friday.
“Turkey will decide when to launch an operation,” said Erdoğan’s Communications Director Fahrettin Altun in an interview with Norwegian Aftenposten newspaper.
Altun became the latest top Turkish government official who has signalled a potential offensive into Kurdish-controlled territories in northern and eastern Syria. Ankara sees the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and its armed-wing the People’s Protection Units (YPG) as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a rebel group that has been fighting in Turkey since 1984.
Altun claimed that the YPG organised attacks against Turkish soldiers as well as civilians living in Turkish-controlled territories in northern Syria seized by the Turkish army and Turkey-backed rebels in three cross-border operations that have been launched in the region since 2016.
When asked if Turkey needs the support of the Russian government to launch a new incursion that will aim to clear the remaining northern Syrian territories from the YPG, Altun said that the two countries had a “deep-rooted history” and were “extremely realistic.”
“Of course, there is some exchange of ideas between the states. However, at the end of the day, no step that Turkey will take is subject to anyone’s permission or consent,” İhlas News Agency quoted Altun as saying to the Norwegian daily.
The communications director added that under Erdoğan’s leadership Turkey has become a country that prioritises its own interests.
The Turkish government has been walking a tightrope policy between the United States and Russia in recent years to achieve its repeatedly stated aim of establishing a 30-kilometre-deep security zone in northern Syria.
Ankara’s persistent policy of preventing a Kurdish autonomous region near Turkey’s border has recently pushed Erdoğan to make attempts to secure a green light from either Washington, Tehran and Moscow for a new military operation into the region.
Failing in these attempts, the Turkish president has softened his rhetoric against the Syrian President Bashar al Assad, while top officials of the Turkish government have signalled a possible reconciliation between the two countries, following a meeting between Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin in early August, during which Putin requested close cooperation between Turkish and Syrian governments on security matters.
Meanwhile, Turkey has reinforced its military presence in Syria and has ramped up strikes against Kurdish targets.
“We will continue those operations according to our own priorities and plans,” Erdoğan said on Thursday in relation to the situation in northern Syria. “As we have said before, we can go there, one night, suddenly. In fact we can go everywhere”, Yeni Şafak newspaper quoted Erdoğan as saying.
Turkey is aware of the hypocrisy of some countries that wag their fingers to Ankara’s plans while they themselves launch operations anywhere they want, said Erdoğan.
“We are continuing and will continue our operations,” Turkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said in an interview with A Haber on Friday.
Claiming that northern Syrian cities Tell Rifat and Manbij have become hotbeds for terrorist groups, Akar added that Turkey would do whatever needed to be done.