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Turkey to launch ‘anti-terrorist’ operation in Syria – Erdogan

Turkey will step up its efforts to create what it calls a 30-kilometer-wide “security zone” alongside its southern border with Syria, the country’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Wednesday.

The Turkish Armed Forces are to launch an “anti-terrorist” operation, which will target the northern Syrian cities of Tal Rifat and Manbij in particular, he told a meeting of his Justice and Development (AK) Party in Ankara.

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The president did not specify the exact date when the operation is to start. Neither did he reveal the number of troops expected to take part in it.

Turkey considers Kurdish militias in northern Syria to be an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – a militant organization engaged in a decades-long conflict with Turkey. Established as a separatist movement seeking independence for Kurds, it later shifted its focus towards broader autonomy for Kurds within Turkey. Ankara considers it a terrorist group, as does the US, the EU and some other nations, like Canada and Australia.

“We are going into the new phase of our determination to form a 30-kilometer-deep (20-miles) safe zone along our southern border. We will clear Tal Rifaat and Manbij of terrorists, and we will do the same to other regions step-by-step,” Erdogan said on Wednesday.

The Turkish president has also accused Moscow and Washington of failing to fulfill their commitments and enforce the withdrawal of the Kurdish militias from the Syrian regions bordering Turkey. The developments have prompted Ankara to launch an operation to “protect the nation” and eliminate what it considers a terrorist threat.

Erdogan first announced his plans last week when he said that Turkey “will soon take new steps regarding the incomplete portions of the project we started on the 30-kilometer-deep safe zone we established along our southern border.”

In mid-April, Turkey also sent troops into Iraq, targeting Kurdish militias in the northern regions of Metina, Zap, and Avasin-Basyan in what it called Operation Claw-Lock. Baghdad condemned the operation as a violation of its sovereignty, but has been unable to do anything about it.

Ankara has conducted several military operations against the Kurds in northern Syria – in 2016, 2018 and 2019.

Turkey currently controls portions of Syria’s Aleppo, Raqqa and Hasakah governorates, in addition to supporting militants in Idlib.

The Kurdish militias in Syria known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG) had allied themselves with the US in their fight against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS). In 2019, the US forces hastily withdrew from the area shortly before the Turkish invasion. They pulled out of the major cities of Raqqa and Manbij, and the Syrian Army along with Russian military police replaced them.

Neither Damascus nor Moscow have commented on the developments so far.

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