Turkey’s defence minister has said there can be no turning back from his country’s decision to launch a ground assault on a Syrian Kurdish-controlled enclave in north-west Syria, with sporadic shelling of the area already under way.
Nurettin Canikli told Turkey’s A Haber television that the Syrian Kurdish fighters in Afrin and other Kurdish-controlled territories pose a “real” and ever-increasing threat to Turkey. “This operation will take place; the terror organisation will be cleansed,” Mr Canikli said, in reference to the Syrian Kurdish group, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Turkish officials claim this group is an extension of an outlawed Kurdish rebel group which is fighting inside Turkey. Turkey wants to remove the threat from the YPG and thwart the establishment of a Kurdish corridor along its border. It has been massing troops and tanks along the border in recent weeks.
The US, however, has developed close ties with the YPG over the shared fight against Islamic State.
Mr Canikli said Turkey is determined to carry out an offensive in Afrin, and would not be turned back from its decision. He said the operation had “de facto” begun, in reference to Turkish artillery attacks that have been taking place against suspected YPG targets.
He would not say when the operation would take place, saying authorities were working out the best timing for the assault. They were also working to minimise possible losses for Turkish troops, he said. Mr Canikli said the operation would be conducted by Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters with Turkish troop support.
He also said Turkey had detailed information about the YPG’s military capabilities, adding that Turkey had developed sophisticated weapons since its last incursion into Syria in 2016 which were able to counter them.
In a stark warning to Turkey, Syria said its air defence would shoot down any Turkish jets carrying out attacks within Syria. Deputy foreign minister Faysal Mekdad said a military incursion into Afrin would be “no picnic” for Turkey, and would be considered an “aggressive act”.