Turkey will carry out a military operation in a Kurdish-controlled area east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria, Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan said on Sunday, according to Reuters, its third offensive to dislodge Kurdish militia fighters close to its border.
Turkey had in the past warned of carrying out military operations east of the river but put them on hold after agreeing with the United States to create a safe zone inside Syria’s northeastern border with Turkey that would be cleared of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia.
But Ankara has accused Washington of stalling progress on setting up the safe zone and has demanded it sever its relations with the YPG. The group was Washington’s main ally on the ground in Syria during the battle against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but Turkey sees it as a terrorist organization.
Erdoğan said both Russia and the United States have been told of the planned operation but did not say when it would begin. It would mark the third Turkish incursion into Syria in as many years.
“We entered Afrin, Jarablus and Al-Bab. Now we will enter the area east of the Euphrates,” Erdoğan said on Sunday during a motorway-opening ceremony.
Asked about Erdoğan’s comments, a US official told Reuters, “Bilateral discussions with Turkey continue on the possibility of a safe zone with US and Turkish forces that addresses Turkey’s legitimate security concerns in northern Syria.”
Overnight, three Turkish-backed Syrian rebel fighters were killed during clashes with the YPG, the state-owned Anadolu news agency reported on Sunday. It said the YPG tried to infiltrate the front lines in Syria’s al-Bab area, where Turkey carved out a de facto buffer zone in its 2016 “Euphrates Shield” offensive.
Clashes such as these are frequent in the area, but casualties tend to be rare.
On Thursday the Kurdish-led administration running north and east Syria issued a statement objecting to Turkish threats to attack the area.
“These threats pose a danger on the area and on a peaceful solution in Syria, and any Turkish aggression in the area will open the way for the return of [ISIL], and that aggression will also contribute to the widening of the circle of Turkish occupation in Syria,” the statement said.
It called on the international community to take a stance that stops Turkey from carrying out its threats.