Turkey to act with Russia against Kurdish Afrin in Syria: Erdogan
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday said that his country was to operate with Russia in any move he might take against the self-administered Kurdish district of Afrin in northwestern Syria.
As part of the tripartite Astana deal between Ankara, Tehran, and Moscow, Turkish troops are monitoring a ceasefire in Syria's Idlib Province where al-Qaeda affiliates hold sway just south of Afrin.
Erdogan told the mainstream Hurriyet newspaper that Turkey was “in solidarity with Russia on Idlib.”
“This [deal] will also cover Afrin because Afrin could present threats to us at any moment. Members of the separatist terror organization may try to reach the Mediterranean through the north by occupying Idlib,” he said of the Kurdish forces there.
Turkey views the US-armed and trained People's Protection Units (YPG) as a Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) - which is fighting the Turkish state for greater Kurdish rights - and thus a "terrorist" group.
His government would “never allow the YPG to expand its influence in the region,” Erdogan vowed, indicating his opposition to any YPG attempt to capture Idlib countryside from al-Qaeda affiliates.
His remarks, threatening the isolated Kurdish enclave, came a month after Turkish troops moved inside Idlib to begin their mission as peace observers between the Islamist rebels and the Syrian government forces.
Erdogan also said his army could conduct operations against the Kurdish-held town of Manbij, west of the River Euphrates.
There are Turkish observation points and military outposts to the south as east of Afrin, which is surrounded by Turkey from the west and the north.
The US, which holds bases and over a thousand special forces troops embedded with YPG, does not have any presence in Afrin and it is not clear what its position would be in the face of any Turkish move against the Syrian Kurds as the war on the IS is coming to an end.
Turkey already controls a large pocket of land in northern Syria since its Euphrates Shield operation alongside the Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels ended in February, successfully denying the YPG a chance to break Afrin's isolation and create a link with the rest of the Kurdish-ruled region, called Rojava or Syrian Kurdistan.
Moscow, one of the two primary sponsors of the Syrian regime along with Iran, and a public proponent of Kurdish autonomy in northern Syria has not commented on Erdogan's remarks.
Kurdish officials have previously vowed stiff resistance to any Turkish invasion of Afrin.
Editing by Nadia Riva