Turkey will start a new military operation in Syria east of the Euphrates River “in a few days,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Wednesday, a move that could further complicate relations with the United States, Reuters reported.
Ankara and Washington have long been at odds over Syria, where the United States has backed the YPG Kurdish militia in the fight against Islamic State insurgents. Turkey says the YPG is a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency against the state in southeastern Turkey for 34 years.
Turkey has already intervened to sweep YPG fighters from territory west of the Euphrates in military campaigns over the past two years, but up until now, it had not gone east of the river — partly to avoid direct confrontation with US forces.
But Erdoğan’s patience with Washington over Syria — specifically a deal to clear the YPG from the town of Manbij, just west of the Euphrates — seems to have worn thin.
“We will start the operation to clear the east of the Euphrates from separatist terrorists in a few days. Our target is never US soldiers,” Erdogan said in a speech at a defense industry summit in Ankara.
“This step will allow for the path to a political solution to be opened and for healthier cooperation.”
Turkey has repeatedly voiced frustration about what it says are delays in the implementation of the Manbij deal, saying last month that the agreement should be fully carried out by the end of this year.
Turkish and US troops began joint patrols in northern Syria last month, but that cooperation has also been complicated as Turkey has shelled Kurdish fighters to the east of the Euphrates.