On November 23, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey’s air operations against Kurdish forces in northern Syria is “just the beginning,” stressing that his military will launch a ground operation “when convenient”.
“Our operations with aircraft, artillery, and UCAVs (unmanned combat aerial vehicles) are just the beginning,” Erdogan told the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party group meeting in the Turkish capital, Ankara. “We will come down hard on the terrorists with a land operation at the most convenient time.”
The Turkish military launched a large-scale operation codenamed Claw-Sword against Kurdish forces in northern Syria and northern Iraq on November 20.
The operation came in response to the November 13 Istanbul bombing. Ankara blamed the deadly terrorist attack on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the main component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Erdogan said during his speech that Turkey is more determined than ever to secure its southern border with a “security corridor”, while ensuring the territorial integrity of both Syria and Iraq.
“We are continuing the air operation and will come down hard on the terrorists from land at the most convenient time for us,” the president said. “We have formed part of this corridor [and] will take care of it starting with places such as Tell Rifaat, Manbij and Ain al-Arab [Kobane], which are the sources of trouble.”
Tell Rifaat, Manbij and Ain al-Arab, which are located in the northern and northeastern Aleppo countryside, are key strongholds of the SDF. Syrian government forces maintain a strong presence near the three towns.
Russia has asked Turkey to refrain from a full-scale ground offensive in Syria, senior Russian negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev said after a fresh round of talks about Syria with Turkish and Iranian delegations in Kazakhstan.
The United States, the main ally of the SDF, has also conveyed serious concerns to Turkey about the impact of escalation on the war on ISIS remnants in Syria.
Syria and Iraq have both condemned Turkey’s air operations against Kurdish forces. Damascus, who has already lost several soldiers to Turkish strikes, warned Ankara against launching a ground operation on its territory. Such an operation could possibly lead to a dangerous military confrontation.