The US expressed alarm on Tuesday over Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s plans to begin new military operations along the country’s southern border, claiming that any new incursion in northern Syria would jeopardise regional peace and put American forces in danger.
‘We are gravely concerned by reports and discussions of possible expanded military involvement in northern Syria, especially its impact on the civilian population,’ said State Department spokesman Ned Price.
‘We understand Turkey’s genuine security concerns along its southern border,’ he added, ‘but any further offensive would further erode regional peace and put US forces and the coalition’s anti-ISIS campaign at danger.’
Erdogan announced on Monday that Ankara would soon undertake fresh military operations along its southern borders to construct 30 km (20 mile) deep safe zones to confront what he called terrorist threats from these areas.
The operation is expected to focus on Syria’s north, where Turkey has conducted repeated military operations since 2016 to destabilise the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG), an armed Syrian affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Since 2016, Ankara has launched three incursions into northern Syria, capturing hundreds of kilometres of land and pushing 30 kilometres into the nation in operations aimed mostly at the US-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG militia.
In recent years, Turkey has increased military operations against PKK insurgents in northern Iraq.
Turkey regards the groups as one terrorist organisation. Its NATO allies regard the PKK as a terrorist organisation, but not the YPG.
According to Price, the US expects Turkey to follow through on a joint agreement issued in October 2019 that included a halt to offensive activities in northeastern Syria. ‘Any escalation is condemned. We favour the current ceasefire lines being maintained.’
Erdogan made the statement in response to Turkey’s opposition to Finland and Sweden joining NATO. Analysts believe his surprising declaration reflected his assumption that the West would not resist such operations at a time when the Nordic nations’ bid to join NATO requires Ankara’s backing.