Turkey may launch a new cross-border military operation into northern Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
Ankara has already begun reinforcing its border against possible threats from Kurdish militants by dispatching artillery to the southeastern province of Kilis.
It will also deploy tanks and howitzers across the Syrian Kurdish-held region of Afrin, the Dogan news agency reported.
Turkey launched a cross-border operation into northern Syria, dubbed Euphrates Shield, last August to clear the area of Daesh and Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, both considered terrorist organizations by Ankara. That operation ended in late March 2017.
“We are determined to extend the dagger we have put into the heart of the terror entity project through the Euphrates Shield Operation with new moves,” Erdogan told a large crowd at a stadium opening ceremony.
Relations between Ankara and Washington have been strained over US support for the Syrian Kurds, considered a key regional partner against Daesh to take back the group’s self-claimed capital of Raqqa.
Turkey’s concern is that Syrian Kurds try to unify its semi-autonomous regions in northern Syria and threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey.
“The timing of this announcement is very telling,” said Cengiz Tomar, professor of international relations and vice-rector at Yalova University in Turkey.
“The only move that Turkey can make is to expand its intervention and to boost its military build-up toward the Kurdish held district of Afrin and Idlib in order to hinder the expansion of the YPG that is closely tied to the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK — a terrorist group that has carried out bloody attacks inside Turkey for decades.”
Tomar also said that for such a military operation to occur, Turkey needed approval from Russia, and the US was likely to oppose it, as it did with the Euphrates Shield operation.
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“For now, the primary survival threat for Turkey is not Daesh, but Kurdish militants. So, it would focus its energy and military strategy on preventing a PKK/YPG belt on its southern border,” he said.
The move is also connected to the domestic politics of the region and its possible repercussions for regional balance, which is already delicate. Iraqi Kurds are planning an independence referendum on Sept. 25, which Ankara recently called “a terrible mistake.”
“Preserving Iraq’s territorial integrity and political unity is one of the fundamental principles of Turkey’s Iraq policy. This principle is a prerequisite for lasting stability, peace, security and prosperity in the region,” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said in June.
Turkish warplanes bombed several PKK positions in northern Syria and Iraq in April, killing Iraqi peshmerga and YPG militants.