March 19, 2018
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, buoyed by his army’s capture of a Kurdish stronghold in northwest Syria, threatened to extend the offensive against separatist Kurdish militants to eastern Syria and northern Iraq.
Turkey’s military will shift their campaign to several towns under the control of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, including Manbij, Kobani, Tal Abyad, Rasulayn and Qamishli, “until this terror corridor is fully eliminated,” Erdogan said Monday. Turkey’s threat to attack Manbij, where U.S. troops are based, has put Ankara at loggerheads with Washington, and talks between the NATO allies have so far yielded no agreement. The U.S. also has a diplomatic presence in Kobani.
Erdogan on Sunday claimed victory in the cross-border operation he launched in January to expel the YPG from Afrin, a town along the Turkish border. While the loss of Afrin delivered a major blow to the YPG’s hopes to establish a contiguous autonomous region, Turkey has resolved to clear the separatist fighters from other areas near its frontier.
Turkish authorities see the YPG as an extension of PKK militants who have used bases in northern Iraq as a springboard for attacks on Turkish targets in a decades-long war for autonomy.
Turkey has served notice to the Iraqi government in Baghdad that its forces would attack the major PKK camp on Mount Sinjar near the Syrian border unless Iraq takes action.
“If you are going to handle this, you do it,” Erdogan said in remarks directed at Iraq. “If you can’t handle it, then we may suddenly enter Sinjar one night and clear out the PKKs there.”
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said earlier that Turkish and Iraqi armies would carry out a joint offensive against the PKK bases in northern Iraq, probably after Iraqi elections set for May 12.
Turkey has had hundreds of troops deployed at the Bashiqa training based near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul since the end of 2014. It has also had a tank battalion stationed near the Iraqi frontier town of Bamerni for about two decades, and has frequently sent planes and troops across the border to target the PKK.
The U.S., meanwhile, expressed deep concern over reports that many residents had fled Kurdish-majority Afrin under threat of attack from the Turkish army and allied rebel forces.
“This adds to the already concerning humanitarian situation in the area, with United Nations agencies reporting a displaced population in or from Afrin district in the hundreds of thousands, who now require immediate shelter and other assistance to meet basic needs,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in an emailed statement on Monday.
“We have repeatedly expressed our serious concern to Turkish officials regarding the situation in Afrin.”