Turkish forces, together with the rebel Free Syrian Army, will cross the Syrian border “shortly”, President Tayyip Erdogan’s communications director said early on Wednesday, as a surprise withdrawal of U.S. troops made way for the Turkish incursion.
Turkey has been poised to advance into northeast Syria since the U.S. troops began vacating the area in an abrupt policy shift by U.S. President Donald Trump widely criticised in Washington as a betrayal of America’s allies, the Kurds.
On Tuesday, Turkish officials told Reuters that the military had struck the Syrian-Iraqi border to prevent Kurdish forces using the route to reinforce the region, though details of the strikes were hazy.
In a tweet, President Erdogan’s aide Fahrettin Altun said that Kurdish militants there could either defect or Ankara would have to “stop them from disrupting” Turkey’s struggle against the Islamic State militants.
Turkey has said it intends to create a “safe zone” in order to return millions of refugees to Syrian soil, but the scheme has alarmed some Western allies as much as the risks posed by the military operation itself.
For Turkey, which views Kurdish YPG fighters in northeast Syria as terrorists because of their ties to militants waging an insurgency inside Turkey, an influx of non-Kurdish Syrians would help it secure a buffer against its main security threat.
The U.S. withdrawal from the area will leave Kurdish-led forces long allied to Washington vulnerable to attack by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK).