Turkey says it is ready to launch an offensive against a Kurdish militia in Syria

A Republican senator again claimed that the United States was not giving a green light to a military operation in Ankara despite the withdrawal of US troops.

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A Turkish army tank is heading for the Syrian border near Akçakale on October 8, 2019.
A Turkish army tank is heading towards the Syrian border near Akçakale on October 8, 2019. BULENT KILIC / AFP

Confusion continues to reign around Syria's northern border with Turkey. Ankara said Tuesday, October 8, to be ready to launch a new offensive on Syrian territory against a Kurdish militia. This announcement ignores the procrastination of US President Donald Trump, who had assured support for the militia after hinting at the opposite.

Reinforcing the impression that an offensive against the People's Protection Units (YPG) was imminent, the Turkish Ministry of Defense stated that "All preparations for an operation have been completed". On Monday evening, the Turkish army dispatched reinforcements, including tanks, on its border with Syria, and new armored vehicles were massed Tuesday. A convoy of dozens of vehicles was seen by a Agence France-Presse (AFP) journalist in the town of Akçakale. According to the state-run news agency Anatolia, he was carrying construction equipment.

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On Tuesday evening, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by Kurdish fighters, claimed that the attack had started. "The Turkish army bombs one of our positions", they wrote on Twitter, evoking the border town of Ras Al-Ain. This is one of the places American soldiers pulled out on Monday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"There were no casualties among our troops. We did not respond to this attack that we had not provoked. We are ready to defend the people (…) NE (north-east) of Syria »said the SDS.

Erdogan in Washington on November 13

Skirmishes have already taken place between Turkish and Syrian forces, and there was no indication that this bombing could prepare a vast Turkish incursion into Syria. But the communication director of the Turkish Presidency, Fahrettin Altun, wrote in the Washington Post that Turkish soldiers were going "To cross the Syrian-Turkish border shortly". Kurdish forces can still "Defecting", or Turkey "Will have no choice but to stop them from disrupting (his) anti-Islamic State efforts ", he added.

The United States seemed reluctant after the White House announcement on Sunday night following a telephone conversation between Trump and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that the US military stationed in the area would be withdrawn. view of a Turkish operation. Accused in his own camp of releasing US allies, President Trump reoriented Monday his speech saying he "Completely destroys Turkey's economy" if it "Exceeded the limits".

"We are leaving Syria, but we have not abandoned the Kurds, who are great people and wonderful fighters", he added Tuesday in a tweet. "We help the Kurds financially" and providing them " weapons ". But he also pointed out that Turkey was a "Important business partner" from the United States and announced that he would welcome Mr. Erdogan to Washington on 13 November.

"To the Turkish government: you do NOT have the green light to enter northern Syria", Republican Senator Lindsey Graham wrote on Twitter, speaking of a "Red line not to cross".

Read our editorial: The irresponsible diplomacy of Donald Trump

Airspace closed by the United States

According to the Turkish daily Hürriyet, the Turkish staff is waiting for the withdrawal of US forces in the area to be completed. Turkey plans to first take control of a 120-kilometer-long strip of land stretching some 30 kilometers from the cities of Tall Abyad to Ras al-Ain, according to the newspaper. A senior State Department official said Monday that US forces, who control the airspace in northeastern Syria, had closed it to Turkish aviation. "We do not intend to change this in the near future", he said.

In the long term, Ankara intends to create a "Security zone", a sort of buffer 30 km deep stretching from the Euphrates to the Iraqi border, 480 km. This area is intended, according to Ankara, to host part of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey and to separate the Turkish border territories conquered by the YPG in full Syrian chaos. "It's the craziest idea I've ever heard"said the US official about the Turkish project to install millions of refugees.

If Western countries praise the role of the YPG in the Islamic State (IS) group's military defeat in Syria, Ankara views them as 'Terrorists' because of their links with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which leads a guerrilla war in Turkey.

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In August, the United States had prevented in extremis a Turkish offensive against the YPG by proposing to create with it a "Security zone". But Ankara had not ceased since to denounce delays, threatening to move unilaterally to action. US officials have sought to stand out from any military operation in Ankara and minimize the departure of US troops, citing the mere redeployment of 50 to 100 special forces.

This confusion worries the rest of the international community, the United Nations declaring Monday "Prepare for the worst" in the event of a new humanitarian crisis in Syria, where since 2011 the conflict has displaced millions of people and claimed the lives of more than 370,000 people. The Syrian government has called on the Kurds to return to their fold. "We will defend the whole Syrian territory and we will not accept any occupation" Foreign Minister Fayçal Mekdad told the daily El-Watan.

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