Turkey has been continuously working on plans for a ground operation into northern Syria, both on the ground and round the table, said the country’s defence minister, Anadolu news agency reported on Saturday.
“There is work going on both on the ground and round the table. This continues without interruption,” Hulusi Akar said when asked if Turkey was still planning to launch a ground operation into northern Syria during a meeting with representatives of the media in Ankara.
Turkey started airstrikes on Kurdish targets in northern Syria on 20 November, accusing them of causing a deadly explosion that hit Istanbul earlier in the month.
Members of the Turkish government have repeatedly stated that a ground invasion will follow the airstrikes against the armed groups under the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces, which Turkey claims to be linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Ankara’s NATO ally Washington objects to ongoing Turkish attacks on Kurdish fighters, which have taken the lead on the ground in the fight against ISIS in northern Syria as part of the US-led coalition established to wipe out the jihadist group.
Akar reminded reporters of Turkey’s previous ground operations in northern Syria, which led to control of some territories in northwest Syria by the Turkish army and Turkey-backed Syrian fighters. The Turkish government has since 2018 been expressing its intent to establish a buffer zone in northern Syria, claiming that it needs to eliminate the Kurdish forces in the northeast to secure its national borders.
“At the start of all of this, we met and talked with our allies openly and honestly. We are resolute and determined to protect our rights. In doing so, we never ignore peace, negotiations or dialogue,” Akar said, referring to Turkey’s previous military incursions into Syria.
“We will try to solve the issue in a sound, rational way. If this is achieved that’s good; if not, then we will make our own decisions. People should not expect us to overlook agitations, provocations and attacks against our country and our nation conducted by terrorists living under our noses,” he added.
When asked about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s comments earlier this month on a possible meeting between the defence ministers of Turkey, Russia and Syria, Akar stressed the Turkish government’s openness to negotiations.
“The dialogue is ongoing. This sometimes evolves into a meeting between ministers, sometimes it occurs as a meeting between intelligence units, sometimes it takes place in other ways,” he said.