Russia and the US are calling for a de-escalation in the face of cross-border Turkish raids on Kurdish positions in Syria and Iraq.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has signaled a possible ground offensive in northern Syria and Iraq after Ankara’s forces launched cross-border airstrikes on sites they say were being used by Kurdish groups they blamed for a bombing in central Istanbul.
Escalating tensions have sparked global concern, with Russia and the United States on Monday urging Ankara to show restraint.
Speaking to reporters on a flight home from Qatar after attending the opening of the World Cup, Erdogan said Turkey’s ongoing military campaign in northern Syria and northern Iraq is “not limited to just an air operation” and may involve ground forces.
“The relevant agencies, our Department of Defense and the Chief of Staff will collectively decide how much force should be used by our ground forces,” he said. “We conduct our deliberations and then take appropriate steps.”
The Turkish operation – dubbed the Claw Sword – was launched on Sunday, a week after a bomb blast on Istanbul’s Istiklal Avenue killed six and wounded 81.
Ankara blamed the November 13 attack on the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Group (PKK) and affiliated Syrian Kurdish groups, although the Kurdish fighters have denied any involvement.
Turkey’s Defense Ministry said Claw Sword – which included land-fired weapons – killed 184 fighters and destroyed 89 targets, including shelters, bunkers, caves and tunnels.
The state-run Anadolu News Agency, meanwhile, reported rocket fire from Syrian territory, killing two people on Monday when projectiles hit Turkey’s border district of Karkamis.
The US – which relied primarily on Kurdish militias to defeat the ISIL (ISIS) group in Syria – called for a de-escalation.
“The United States expresses its sincere condolences for the loss of civilians in Syria and Turkey,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price in a statement.
“We urge de-escalation in Syria to protect civilian lives and support the common goal of defeating ISIS. We continue to oppose any uncoordinated military action in Iraq that violates Iraq’s sovereignty,” he said.
Russia also urged Turkey to refrain from using “excessive” military force.
Alexander Lavrentiev, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy for Syria, told reporters that Turkey had not informed Moscow in advance of its raids on its neighbors.
Speaking in the Kazakh capital, which is hosting a tripartite meeting between Russia, Turkey and Iran on Syria, Lavrentiev said he hoped to “convince our Turkish colleagues to refrain from using excessive force on Syrian territory.”
“For months, Russia … did everything possible to prevent any large-scale ground operation,” he added.
Erdogan has been threatening a new large-scale military operation against PKK-affiliated forces in northern Syria for months, but Russia, Iran and many Western countries have warned about the plans.
Turkey has previously conducted military ground operations in Syria, focused on areas just across the border, and seized large parts of the territory.
The Turkish government believes that a so-called “safe zone” along the Syrian side of the border is necessary to allow for the voluntary return of Syrian refugees it is hosting, as well as stop groups that Ankara considers partners with the PKK, such as those of prevent the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from attacking Turkey.