ANKARA, Nov 23 — President Tayyip Erdogan said today that Turkey’s air operations against a Kurdish militia in northern Syria were only the beginning and it would launch a land operation there when convenient after an escalation in retaliatory strikes.
He said Turkey was more determined than ever to secure its southern border with a “security corridor”, while ensuring the territorial integrity of both Syria and Iraq, where it has also been conducting operations against Kurdish militants.
“We are continuing the air operation and will come down hard on the terrorists from land at the most convenient time for us,” Erdogan told his AK Party’s lawmakers in a speech in parliament.
“We have formed part of this corridor (and) will take care of it starting with places such as Tel Rifat, Manbij and Ain al-Arab (Kobani), which are the sources of trouble,” he added.
Russia has asked Turkey to refrain from a full-scale ground offensive in Syria, senior Russian negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev said today after a fresh round of talks about Syria with Turkish and Iranian delegations in Kazakhstan.
Meanwhile, the United States has conveyed serious concerns to Turkey, a NATO ally, about the impact of escalation on the goal of fighting Islamic State militants in Syria.
Turkey has previously launched military incursions in Syria against the Kurdish YPG militia, regarding it as a wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Turkey, the United States and the European Union designate as a terrorist group.
Ankara launched air operations at the weekend in retaliation for an Istanbul bomb attack a week earlier that killed six people, and which it blamed on the YPG. Nobody has claimed responsibility and the PKK and YPG have denied involvement.
Nearly 500 targets hit
Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said the army had hit 471 targets in Syria and Iraq since the weekend in what he said was Turkey’s biggest air operation of recent times.
He received briefings and gave instructions late on Tuesday in a video conference with the chief of general staff, the land forces commander and the commanders of border units, his ministry said on Wednesday.
It cited him as saying 254 militants had been “neutralised” in the operation, a term generally used to be mean killed.
The YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said the Turkish military attacked north and eastern Syria for a third day on Tuesday, using aircraft, drones and heavy artillery, with civilian infrastructure including hospitals and a school among the targets hit.
The SDF media centre said there had been six airstrikes by warplanes and six drone strikes on Tuesday, with nearly 500 artillery shells hitting the region. It previously said 15 civilians and fighters were killed in Turkish strikes in recent days.
The United States has allied with the SDF in the fight against Islamic State in Syria, causing a deep rift with Turkey — Reuters