WED 26 - 2 - 2020
Oct 3, 2019
Turkey to Go It Alone on Syrian Buffer as Erdogan Loses Patience
Selcan Hacaoglu and Firat Kozok
(Bloomberg) -- President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed his readiness to act alone in northeast Syria and retake areas from American-backed Kurdish forces, saying that efforts to defuse the threat they pose to Turkey have failed.
“We may suddenly arrive one night,” Erdogan told reporters after a speech to parliament in Ankara on Tuesday, referring to a possible cross-border offensive in northeast Syria. “We have tried every means, with great patience, to solve this problem together with our allies.”
Erdogan spoke a day after Turkey vowed to take further steps to protect its national security and create a buffer zone inside Syria by pushing back Kurdish militia to enable the return of Syrian refugees. Turkey suspects the U.S. backs Kurdish aspirations for self-rule in Syria and is getting ready to use its military to prevent an attempt to redraw the region’s map.
“Turkey doesn’t have a single day left to lose on this issue,” Erdogan said.
Turkey’s president has repeatedly called on the U.S. to act together in expanding a previously negotiated security zone in Syria -- designed to be off-limits to American-backed Kurdish YPG forces -- while threatening an incursion if he doesn’t get his way by the end of last month. The latest remarks on Tuesday threaten to inflame lingering tensions with Washington, which has warned against a unilateral operation against the Kurdish group, regarded by Turkey as a threat to its territorial integrity.
Adding further strain to ties was Erdogan’s failure to nail down a meeting with President Donald Trump in New York last week.
“We have no other choice left but to tread our own path,” Erdogan said. “Turkey is not going to leave its security to powers with their own agenda in the region.”
Erdogan said Turkey aims to create a buffer zone as deep as 30 kilometers (19 miles) -- running from the Syrian town of Manbij on the west bank of the Euphrates river to the Iraqi border in the east -- in order to accommodate as many as 2 million Syrian refugees in houses that will be built by donations from the international community once the area is cleared from YPG forces.
“Someone is trying to have us kneel down through terrorism and the burden of refugees,” Erdogan said, adding that Turkey won’t accept such a “fait accompli and blackmail” against it.
As it braces for reaction from the U.S., Erdogan said Turkey is ready. He added that America has provided no explanation for its “hostile stance” over Turkey’s purchase of an advanced air-defense system from Russia.
“We’re ready for an operation,” Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said late Tuesday. “This is not a joke but we want this to be resolved in line with the spirit of the alliance” with the U.S.
Akar also urged the U.S. to quickly collect heavy weapons it supplied to the Kurdish forces and make sure that fortified positions of the YPG are fully destroyed. The minister cautioned, however, that Turkey may face greater “risks if the U.S. does not open the air space” over northeast Syria, which is necessary to support Turkish troops from the air.
Russia Urges Syria Political Progress Despite Split With Turkey
Trump’s top Syrian envoy, James Jeffrey, said last week that “any unilateral operation is not going to lead to an improvement in anyone’s security,” as it could derail the fight by Kurdish forces against Islamic State, a top priority for the U.S. in Syria.
The YPG, which played a leading role in defeating Islamic State, has been at the heart of Turkey-U.S. tensions. Turkey sees the fighters as a critical threat given their link to the separatist PKK, an autonomy-seeking Kurdish group Turkey has battled for decades. It’s considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union.
For Turkey to achieve its goal of a larger “safe zone” that extends over as much as half of its 900-kilometer border with Syria, the Kurdish militia need to be pushed farther south.
Erdogan wants to resettle some of the more than 3.6 million Syrians who fled their country’s civil war in the buffer area to alleviate the burden on Turkey’s economy and social tensions over hosting the world’s largest refugee population amid fears of a new wave fleeing from the northwestern province of Idlib.
“We will try working together until the end, but if this is not possible we would pave our own way,” Erdogan said. “No doubt, our job won’t be easy.”
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