ISTANBUL — Turkey’s president reiterated Saturday that new cross-border operations into Syria are in the works as the country boosts its military presence along the border against threats from Kurdish militants in war-torn Syria.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey is determined to launch “new moves” akin to its foray into northern Syria last August. “It’s clear that the situation in Syria goes beyond a war on a terror organization,” Erdogan said, referring to the Islamic State group, and alluding to Kurdish aspirations for statehood.
He was addressing a large crowd at a stadium opening in eastern Malatya province, and slammed the U.S.-led campaign against IS in Syria.
Turkey has been vehemently opposed to the presence of the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, in northern Syria. The Syrian Kurdish militants are a key U.S. ally in the fight against IS in Syria, and the ongoing campaign to retake the extremist group’s de-facto capital of Raqqa.
But Turkey, a NATO member, considers the YPG to be a terror group and an extension of Kurdish militants that have waged a three-decades-long insurgency inside its borders. The country fears that the Syrian Kurds will attempt to link its semi-autonomous regions in northern Syria, which Erdogan calls a “terror entity project” that threatens his country.
In last year’s cross-border operation dubbed Euphrates Shield, Turkey-backed Syrian opposition groups and the Turkish military cleared an area in northern Syria of IS and prevented the YPG from conjoining its territories.
“We would rather pay the price for spoiling plans against our future and liberty in Syria and Iraq rather than on our own soil,” Erdogan said.
“Soon we will take new and important steps,” he announced.
Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency said Saturday that the military dispatched artillery to the border province of Kilis to reinforce units there.
The six-vehicle convoy included tanks and howitzers to be positioned across from the Kurdish-controlled Syrian region of Afrin, according to the private Dogan news agency.
In late April, Turkey began relocating military units to Sanliurfa province across from another YPG-controlled area.