Erdogan says Turkish forces have ‘own game plan’ in Idlib, Syria
“We implement our own game plan, step by step… We are not bounded by just resistance or defense,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday, stressing that due to a shared border with Syria, Turkey is facing a variety of dangers.
“Turkey shares a border with Idlib. Thus, we should take our own measures,” Erdogan told a meeting of his Justice and Development (AK) Party according to Anadolu. “It is us that shares a 911km [566-mile] border with Syria. It is us who are under constant abuse and threat."
Erdogan added that Turkey will never forget those states that showed support, as well as those that demonstrated “double standards” and “stood in Turkey's way” in the wake of last year’s failed coup attempt.
“Every day Turkey confronts a new game by those who can’t make us kneel in the political, diplomatic, military or economic areas,” he said. “Those who supported terror groups such as the Fetullah Terrorist Organization and the PKK failed to corner Turkey [and] are taking now direct action.”
Turkey announced the launch of its anti-terrorist groups in Syria last week. On Thursday night, Turkey deployed a convoy of roughly 30 military vehicles with reconnaissance teams into rebel-held northwest Syria. The reinforcements which crossed the Bab al-Hawa checkpoint were sent to mainly provide the security across the fourth Syrian de-escalation zone in Idlib province.
The Turkish military has already began setting up observation posts along the border of Idlib and Afrin, which is part of the Aleppo Governorate and has dominant Kurdish presence.
“Turkish Armed Forces elements that are to serve in the Idlib de-escalation zone have started their activities by establishing observation posts from Oct. 12, 2017, as part of the Astana agreement,” the military said in a statement.
“The Turkish Armed Forces continue to carry out their duties in the territory within the engagement rules agreed by the guarantor countries in the Astana negotiations,” the statement quoted by Anadolu added.
The proposal to establish four de-escalation zones in Syria, championed by Russia, was finalized in September at the latest round of Syria peace talks in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, with Idlib becoming the fourth zone created under the deal.
The deal signed by Russia, Iran and Turkey, and approved by the Syrian government is aimed at separating extremist and terrorist groups such as Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS, ISIL) and the former Al-Nusra Front from the so-called moderate armed opposition. To ensure there are no clashes between the government forces and rebels, Russian, Iranian and Turkish observers will be sent to Idlib to monitor de-escalation.
In addition to meeting their end of the bargain under the Astana agreement, Turkey hopes to secure its border with Syria by fighting alongside Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) against what Ankara considers are terrorist elements. Besides fighting jihadists, Ankara is engaged in a personal vendetta against the Kurdish militia.
Turkey has long been worried about the autonomy of Kurds in Syria as Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) of the Democratic Union Party of Syria (PYD) with the help of American-led airstrikes, continue to capture a vast amount of territory in Northern Syria. That territory borders Kurdish-dominant southeastern Turkey, where Ankara continues to target the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
Turkey has repeatedly said that it would not tolerate Kurds staying west of the Euphrates River, with YPG-PYD advances in northern Syria remaining the key security issue for Ankara. The two groups are designated terrorist organizations by Turkey – but not the US, as the YPG serves as one of the pillars of the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The latest cross-border operation by the Turkish military has become the second one officially undertaken by Ankara in Syria. During the Operation Euphrates Shield, which was launched in August last year and ended in March, Ankara together with Turkey-aligned Syrian opposition groups liberated several IS-held areas such as Jarablus, Dabiq, al-Rai and al-Bab.