Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeated his determination create a security zone in Kurdish-held areas on the Syrian side of his country’s southern border and says will not be deterred by attacks from Syrian Kurds. Speaking at a south-eastern province near the Syrian border, he said: “We will definitely complete the 30-kilometre-deep security corridor.”
Mr Erdogan has made this threat since mid-November, when a bomb allegedly planted by a Syrian woman in central Istanbul killed six people and wounded 81. The incident was blamed on the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is regarded by Ankara as an offshoot of the insurgent Turkish Kurdish Workers party.
The Turkish president has been unable so to convince Russia to give a green light to his planned offensive, which is strongly opposed by the US and Europe.
Following retaliatory Turkish airstrikes against Kurdish enclaves in northern Syria, the US reiterated its backing of Turkey’s right to self-defence, but national security spokesman John Kirby said the US rejects any actions “that could put American lives at risk” in Turkish targeted areas where US servicemen are based with YPG forces.
Ankara began to impose its “security zone” in 2017 and 2018 with the seizure of territory in northern Aleppo province. In 2019 it occupied an enclave that includes territory in the Aleppo, Raqqa and Hasakeh provinces. Mr Erdogan’s promised offensive in the Kobane, Ras al-Ain, Tel Abyad and al-Hasakah regions could give Turkey an occupation zone stretching for three-quarters of the 900km border.
Syrian Kurdish commander Mazloum Abdi has responded to Mr Erdogan’s threat by reminding the US and its European allies in a Washington Post interview that in 2014 the YPG “dealt the Islamic State [Isis] its first major defeat [at his hometown of Kobane] in partnership with the United States and the Global Coalition”.
Kobane is viewed by Mr Abdi as the symbol of the victory over Islamic State. He says it is now under threat “from a US ally and member of Nato”.
Mr Abdi said: “The alliances we forged there led to the end of the Isis caliphate in 2019.” This involved a partnership between Kurdish-led ground forces and US air power. Until the Kobane battle, Washington had failed to create an effective force from US-recruits trained and armed in Turkey.
The YPG-US partnership also resulted in the occupation by the YPG of 25 per cent of Syrian territory in the north and east. Mr Abdi said the YPG established “local administrations [which] represented all ethnicities and religions and gave women equal power.”
He contrasted this area with enclaves held by Turkish-sponsored Syrian militias which, he argued, are “infamous for chaos, instability, infighting and the presence of extremists”. He said he was basing his allegation on UN reports.