ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Turkish officials on Thursday continued to threaten an invasion of Syrian Kurdistan where US troops still serve along Kurdish-led forces in the fight against the Islamic State even if President Donald Trump’s administration backpedals on the withdrawal decision.
“When [President] Recep Tayyip Erdogan promises something, he keeps it. Our operation against the YPG is not bound by the American pull out. Even when there was no such decision [by Trump], our President said we are going to enter the region east of the Euphrates,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told privately-owned NTV.
Any Turkish assault on the Kurdish-held territories in Syria liberated from the Islamic State while American forces are still there may entail a potential conflict between the two NATO allies.
Turkey already occupies and effectively runs local affairs in vast territories in northwestern Syria, including Afrin which came under an intense Turkish military campaign last year that resulted in thousands of deaths and displacement of some 160,000 locals as Erdogan promised to give the region back to the “rightful owners, Arabs.”
Cavusoglu’s remarks followed a visit to Ankara by Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton and other US officials who met with at best an unwelcoming treatment by the Turks, including Erdogan who refused to receive them.
US officials, among them Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have made it clear they do not want Turkey “to slaughter” the Kurds, their partners against the Islamic State, when Washington retreats from Syria, a move seen as a betrayal by many Kurds who lost thousands of men and women during the war.
“It is important that we do everything we can to make sure that those folks that fought with us are protected and Erdogan has made commitments, he understands that,” Pompeo said during a Wednesday visit to the Kurdistan Region capital Erbil.
Turkey announced the postponement of an attack last month when – even to the surprise of the Turkish president, according to the Associated Press – Erdogan convinced Trump to withdraw. But as Washington officials began to give mixed signals about the pull-out, Ankara reiterated an imminent invasion.
Turkey continues talks with Russia and Iran, two other significant players in the Syrian theater of war, on how to act when the last US soldiers leave.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany