On June 1, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that his country will launch a military operation in northern Syria targeting the towns of Tell Rifaat and Manbij which are controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) is the core of the SDF, that is also deeply influenced by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Both the YPG and the PKK are considered terrorist groups by Ankara.
Erdogan made the announcement during a speech made to MPs from Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party. The president vowed that the Turkish military will rid both towns from what he called “terrorists”.
“We are taking a new step in establishing a 30 km security zone along our southern border,” Erdogan said. “We will clean up Tell Rifaat and Manbij”.
Erdogan added that the Turkish military will also move “step by step in other regions” of northern Syria without providing further details.
A day earlier, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told reporters in the United Arab Emirates, where he paid an official visit, that Turkey could launch a new military operation in northern Syria at any time.
Akar said that the decision to conduct a new operation in Syria will be taken by the political leadership in Ankara. The minister explained that the time to start an operation depends on many factors, including the degree of readiness, terrain and weather conditions.
“Due to the current situation, we see that we have to make some interventions to protect our country. We will continue our fight until the last terrorist is neutralized,” he noted.
The Turkish military and its proxies began preparing for a new operation in Syria in May with Erdogan setting the goal of completing a 30 kilometer “safe zone” along the Turkish border.
Ankara has been eyeing Tell Rifaat and Manbij for several years now. The two towns and their surroundings host thousands of Kurds and Arabs who were displaced by Turkey’s operations in the nearby town of al-Bab in 2016, and the area of Afrin in 2018.
A large, heavily-armed force from the Syrian Arab Army and several units from the Russian Military Police are present around both towns under an agreement with the SDF.
Syrian and Russian forces have already taken concrete military measures near Tell Rifaat and Manbij to deter the Turkish military and its proxies. Yet, Ankara appears to be determined to occupy the two towns and their surroundings. This will not only worsen the humanitarian situation in the northern Aleppo countryside, but could also lead to a dangerous military confrontation.