Erdogan vows ground invasion of Syria, Kurds prepare response

QAMISHLI, Syria (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed on Wednesday to order a land invasion of northern Syria targeting Kurdish groups amid years of border violence and repeated Turkish incursions.

Turkey has launched a spate of airstrikes on suspected militant targets in northern Syria and Iraq in recent days in retaliation for a deadly November 13 Istanbul bombing that Ankara blames on Kurdish groups. The groups have denied any involvement in the bombing.

Ankara’s allies, particularly Russia, have tried to stave off a ground attack, but Erdogan said in a speech to his ruling party’s lawmakers in Ankara on Wednesday that the air operations were “just the beginning” and that Turkey was determined to “close all of our southern borders.” … with a security strip preventing the possibility of attacks on our country.”

Turkey has conducted a series of incursions into Syria since 2016 and already controls parts of northern Syria. Erdogan said the new military offensive, to be launched “at the most opportune moment for us”, would target the Tel Rifaat, Manbij and Kobani regions, also known by their Arabic name of Ayn Al Arab.

“The day is near when those concrete tunnels that the terrorists use for their security will become their graves,” he said.

The commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in northeastern Syria, meanwhile, said his group was ready to repel a ground invasion by Turkey.

SDF chief Mazloum Abdi told The Associated Press that his group has been preparing for another such attack since Turkey launched a ground offensive in the region in 2019, and “we believe we’ve reached a level where we’re everyone.” to thwart a new attack. At least the Turks will not be able to occupy any more of our territories and there will be a big battle.”

He added: “If Turkey attacks any region, the war will spread to all regions… and everyone will be injured.”

After the weekend’s airstrikes, Turkish officials said suspected Kurdish militants fired rockets across the Syrian border into Turkey on Monday, killing at least two people and wounding 10 others. Abdi denied that SDF had struck inside Turkish territory.

Russian Presidential Envoy in Syria Alexander Lavrentiev said Turkey should “show some restraint” to prevent an escalation in Syria and expressed hope that “it will be possible to persuade our Turkish partners to refrain from excessive.” Foresee the use of force on Syrian territory. ”

Mazloum urged Moscow and Damascus, as well as the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Syria, which has allied itself with Kurdish fighters in the region, to take a stronger stance to prevent a Turkish ground invasion, and warned before Action could harm attempts to counter ISIS resurgence.

“We can say that our work against ISIS with the international coalition has stopped because we are busy with the Turkish attacks,” he said. “Our coordination and cooperation with the Russians on the ground is also affected by the Turkish attacks.”

The Turkish airstrikes, which killed a number of Syrian Army soldiers operating in the same area as SDF forces, also threatened to disrupt a nascent rapprochement between Damascus and Ankara. The two have been on opposite sides of Syria’s civil war but have entered low-level talks in recent months.

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkey Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the unfolding events “will likely culminate in a Turkish incursion into Syria,” but perhaps not immediately.

“I think Ankara is aligning the two stars required for an invasion of Syria, where the stars are the American star and the Russian star,” Cagaptay said, noting that Washington and its allies need Turkey’s support, to grant Finland and Sweden NATO membership Russia is seeking a deal between Ankara and Damascus that could “end” the war in Syria.

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Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara and Ghaith Alsayed in Idlib, Syria contributed to this report. Sewell reported from Beirut.

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