Turkey said on Tuesday it was set to launch a military push into northeast Syria after the United States began pulling back troops, opening the way for a Turkish attack on Kurdish-led forces long allied with Washington, as Kurdish-led forces said they might start talks with Damascus and Russia to fill a security vacuum following the US withdrawal, Reuters reported.
The US move will leave its Kurdish-led partner forces in Syria vulnerable to an incursion by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), which brands them as terrorists because of their links to Kurdish militants who have waged a long insurgency in Turkey.
“The TSK will never tolerate the establishment of a terror corridor on our borders. All preparations for the operation have been completed,” the Turkish Defense Ministry tweeted early on Tuesday.
“It is essential to establish a safe zone/peace corridor to contribute to our region’s peace and stability, and for Syrians to achieve a safe life.”
A Reuters witness saw no signs of military activity near the Turkish border town of Akçakale, across from Syria’s Tel Abyad. Howitzers were placed behind earthen embankments on Turkey’s side of the border, pointed towards Syria.
US forces evacuated two observation posts at Tel Abyad and Ras al Ain on Monday, a US official said.
The Kurdish-led forces, which have been the most effective US partners in fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), have denounced the major US policy shift as a “stab in the back.”
Mustafa Bali of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said the continued Turkish military buildup on the border together with information about further mobilization of Turkey-backed Syrian rebels indicated that “an attack is imminent.”
“Naturally our preparations are along the length of the border with Turkey, and our forces are in a state of readiness,” Bali told Reuters.
Syrian Kurdish official Badran Jia Kurd said Kurdish-led authorities in northern Syria may open talks with Damascus and Russia if US forces fully withdraw from the Turkish border area.
Russia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s strongest foreign ally, said it was not told in advance by Washington or Turkey about any agreements to pull US troops from the northeast, adding that it was watching the situation very closely.
Iran, another Assad ally, voiced opposition to any Turkish operation in Syria. “Such an action will not only not end Turkey’s security concerns but will lead to widespread material and human damage,” Iran’s foreign ministry said.