Turkey has completed preparations for a new operation in northern Syria to “destroy” a U.S.-backed Kurdish militia that Ankara considers to be a terrorist group, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday.
The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia holds territory east of the Euphrates river, where Turkey has repeatedly threatened to launch an fresh offensive.
“We are going to destroy the terrorist structure in the east of the Euphrates. We have completed our preparations, plans, programmes regarding this issue,” Erdogan told lawmakers from his ruling party in parliament.
Erdogan appeared to indirectly confirm Turkish state media reports that the Turkish military fired artillery shells at YPG positions east of the Euphrates in the Kobane region of northern Syria on Sunday. The YPG has held the area since 2015.
“In fact, in the past few days, we have begun real interventions against the terror organization,” Erdogan said, without giving further details.
“We are going to breathe down the necks of the terror organisation with comprehensive and effective operations soon. As I have always said, we can come suddenly one night.”
Erdogan has previously made similar threats and on Friday gave the YPG a “final warning.”
The YPG is considered by the Turkish government to be inextricably linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey, and is designated as a terror group by Turkey and its Western allies.
But the YPG is not a proscribed organization in the United Kingdom, United States or European Union and it is a key component of the U.S.-led Coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces alliance which is waging a successful campaign against ISIS in Syria.
Washington’s support of the YPG remains a major point of contention between the U.S. and Turkey, NATO allies who have seen relations deteriorate over the last two years.
The YPG holds swathes of territory in northern and northeastern Syria.
Turkey has launched two offensives west of the Euphrates since 2016. Operation Euphrates Shield captured from Islamic State territory to the west of the river and prevented the SDF from expanding territory it had captured from the jihadists around Manbij.
Earlier this year, Turkish military forces backed Syrian opposition fighters to retake the western Efrin region from the YPG during a two-month air and ground offensive called Operation Olive Branch. There was no ISIS presence in Efrin.
Joint patrols in Manbij
In a bid to lower tensions, the U.S. and Turkey in June agreed to work together in Manbij, west of the Euphrates, after Ankara repeatedly threatened to attack the city.
Turkey and the U.S. agreed to conduct independent, coordinated patrols while troops from both countries began training together earlier this month.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Tuesday that training had been completed and joint patrols would begin.
Akar added that Turkey’s next target would be east of the Euphrates.
The SDF captured Manbij was captured from ISIS on August 12, 2016 after a 75-day battle, later named “Operation Martyr and Commander Faysal Abu Layla” after the SDF commander.
Fighters from the YPG and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) made up the bulk of those deployed in the operation, and the YPG said it handed its points of control west of the Euphrates river to Manbij Military Council as it had agreed ahead of the offensive. Turkey has long disputed this version of events, while the YPG said some of its forces had remained to advise MMC.
In June, the YPG announced that its remaining advisors would leave Manbij as part of the “roadmap” agreed by the U.S. and Turkey.
With reporting from AFP