QAMISHLI, Syria – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed Wednesday to launch a land invasion of northern Syria targeting Kurdish groups, following years of border violence and Turkish incursions.
In retaliation for a deadly Nov. 13 bombing in Istanbul, Turkey has launched a barrage of airstrikes on suspected militant targets in northern Syria and Iraq in recent days. The groups have denied any involvement in the bombings, claiming that Turkish strikes have killed civilians and jeopardized the fight against Daesh.
Ankara’s allies, particularly Russia, have tried to prevent a ground incursion, but Erdogan said Wednesday in a speech to his ruling party’s legislators in Ankara that the air operations are “just the beginning” and that Turkiye is determined to “close down all of our southern borders… with a security strip that will prevent attacks on our country.”
Since 2016, Turkiye has conducted a series of incursions into Syria, and it now controls parts of northern Syria. Erdogan stated that the new military offensive, which will take place “at the most convenient time for us,” will target the areas of Tel Rifaat, Manbij, and Kobani, also known as Ayn Al Arab in Arabic.
“The day is coming when those concrete tunnels used by terrorists for safety will become their graves,” he predicted.
Meanwhile, the commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in northeast Syria said his forces are ready to repel a ground invasion by Turkiye.
The SDF’s head, Mazloum Abdi, told The Associated Press that his organization has been preparing for another such attack since Turkiye launched a ground offensive in the area in 2019, and that “we believe we have reached a level where we can foil any new attack.” At the very least, the Turks will not be able to occupy more of our territory, and there will be a major battle.”
“If Turkiye attacks any region, the war will spread to all regions… and everyone will suffer as a result,” he added.
Following the weekend’s airstrikes, Turkish officials reported that suspected Kurdish militants fired rockets across the Syrian border into Turkiye on Monday, killing at least two people and injuring ten others. Abdi denied that the SDF had launched an attack inside Turkish territory.
Alexander Lavrentyev, Russia’s presidential envoy in Syria, stated that Turkey should “exercise restraint” in order to prevent an escalation in Syria and expressed hope that “it will be possible to convince our Turkish partners to refrain from excessive use of force on Syrian territory.”
Mazloum urged Moscow and Damascus, as well as the US-led coalition fighting Daesh in Syria, which is allied with Kurdish fighters in the area, to take a stronger stance to prevent a Turkish ground invasion, warning that such an action would jeopardize efforts to combat a Daesh resurgence.
“We can say that our work with the international coalition against Daesh has ceased because we are preoccupied with the Turkish attacks,” he said. “The Turkish attacks have also hampered our coordination and work with the Russians on the ground.”
Late Wednesday, Turkish airstrikes also targeted the Al-Hol camp in Hassakeh province, which houses tens of thousands of Daesh group militants’ wives, widows, and children. The strikes appeared to target security forces in charge of keeping the crime-ridden camp secure, according to SDF forces and a camp official.
Sheikhmous Ahmad, a Kurdish official in charge of displaced people camps in northeast Syria, said that some detainees attempted to flee.
“The security forces currently control Al-Hol camp, but that could change if these attacks continue and the detainees disperse in the area,” Ahmad told the Associated Press. “This would jeopardize international security as well as our own.”
One of the Turkish strikes on Tuesday came within 300 meters of US personnel, according to a US Central Command spokesperson, and “these strikes continue to put US forces at risk.” He refused to reveal the location of the strike.
Turkish airstrikes on Syrian army soldiers operating in the same area as SDF forces have also threatened to destabilize a nascent rapprochement between Damascus and Ankara. Both have been on opposing sides in Syria’s civil war, but have recently begun low-level talks.
The events unfolding, according to Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “will probably culminate in a Turkish incursion into Syria,” but perhaps not immediately.
“I think Ankara is aligning the two stars required for an incursion into Syria,” Cagaptay said, noting that Washington and its allies need Turkiye’s support to grant Finland and Sweden NATO membership, while Russia is angling for a deal between Ankara and Damascus that could “wrap up the war” in Syria.