ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey will launch a new military operation against U.S-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria “within a few days,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday, a move that is likely to further strain ties between NATO allies Turkey and the United States.
In recent months Turkey has shelled Kurdish positions across the border in Syria, east of the Euphrates River, and has threatened to drive out the Syrian Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG.
The YPG is the main component of a Kurdish-led militia that rolled back the Islamic State group with the help of the U.S.-led coalition. Ankara views the YPG as terrorists because of their links to the Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey. U.S. troops are deployed with the Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria, in part to prevent clashes with Turkey.
“We will begin our operation to rescue the east of the Euphrates (river) from the separatist organization within a few days,” Erdogan said. “Our target is not the American soldiers it is terror organizations that are active in the region.”
He called on the United States not to allow “deep” disagreements over Syria policy to impede future cooperation between the two countries.
Turkey has been incensed by American support for the Kurdish-led forces. More recently, it has been frustrated by delays in the implementation of an agreement that was reached between Washington and Ankara that would effectively push the Kurdish militia out of the key northern Syrian town of Manbij, west of the Euphrates.
“They are not being honest, they are still not removing terrorists (from Manbij),” Erdogan said. “Therefore we will do it.”
Erdogan’s statement, at an address to a defense industry meeting, follows U.S. moves to set up observation posts in northern Syria, despite Turkey’s objections. Turkey says the observation posts are aimed at protecting the YPG.
“We know that the aim of the radar and observation posts set up by the United States (east of the Euphrates) is not to protect our country from terrorists, but to protect the terrorists from Turkey,” Erdogan said.
Turkish troops have already driven back Syrian Kurdish forces in two cross-border operations west of the Euphrates, in 2016 and earlier this year.