On Monday, Turkey vowed to take further steps to protect its national security and create a buffer zone inside Syria by pushing back U.S.-backed Kurdish forces to enable the return of Syrian refugees, according to a statement.
The statement came after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan chaired a 3 1/2-hour security meeting that gathered the nation’s top brass and civilian leaders on Monday, his deadline for a threatened incursion into Syria that’s stridently opposed by the U.S.
Overshadowing the National Security Council meeting were lingering tensions with Washington, which has warned against a unilateral operation to retake border areas from an American-backed Kurdish force, regarded by Turkey as a threat to its territorial integrity.
Turkey “won’t hesitate to display necessary will to protect the national security,” the Council said in a statement, adding that the struggle against Kurdish and Islamic State “terrorists” will be doggedly maintained at home and abroad. Turkey will take “further steps and strengthen the safe zone project to enable the return of Syrian refugees to their home as soon as possible.”
Erdogan has repeatedly called on the U.S. to jointly expand a previously agreed upon security zone in Syria — designed to be off-limits to American-backed Kurdish YPG forces — while threatening an incursion if he doesn’t get his way by month’s end.
The Turkish president’s impatience only grew after he failed to nail down a meeting with President Donald Trump in New York last week.
Trump’s top Syrian envoy, James Jeffrey, said on Thursday that “any unilateral operation is not going to lead to an improvement in anyone’s security,” as it could derail the fight by Kurdish forces against Islamic State, a top priority for the U.S. in Syria.
The YPG, which played a leading role in defeating Islamic State, has been at the heart of Turkey-U.S. tensions. Turkey sees the fighters as a top threat given their link to the separatist PKK, an autonomy-seeking Kurdish group Turkey has battled for decades. It’s considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union.
For Turkey to achieve its goal of a larger “safe zone” that extends over as much as half of its 900-kilometer (559-mile) border with Syria, the Kurdish militia need to be pushed farther south.
Erdogan wants to resettle some of the more than 3.6 million Syrians who fled their country’s civil war in the buffer area to alleviate the burden on Turkey’s economy and social tensions over hosting the world’s largest refugee population amid fears of a new wave fleeing from the northwestern province of Idlib.
Originally published on https://www.bloomberg.com