ISTANBUL (AFP) – President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday said Turkey had a duty to defeat the Islamic State extremist group, adding its operation inside Syria was a first step towards this goal.
Turkey has sent dozens of tanks and hundreds of troops into Syria, in an unprecedented operation dubbed Euphrates Shield aimed at booting out both IS jihadists and Kurdish militia from the border area.
The operation, launched on August 24, came after a string of bloody suicide bombings and rocket attacks inside Turkey blamed on IS.
“It is the binding duty in front of our nation to finish off the organisation called Daesh (IS) in Syria and ensure it is unable to carry out actions inside our country,” Erdogan said in a televised message for the upcoming Eid al-Adha Islamic holiday.
“The Euphrates Shield operation is the first step towards this,” he added.
Erdogan said Turkey was now “much stronger, determined and more dynamic” than before the July 15 coup bid, which the authorities blame on the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen. He denies the charges.
Six Turkish soldiers have been killed so far in rocket attacks in Syria blamed on IS but Erdogan said that the Euphrates Shield would continue and “not one drop” of blood of Turkey’s forces would be spilt in vain.
Turkey had previously been accused of not doing enough in the fight against IS and its Western partners have applauded the operation.
Turkey’s operation is also targeting the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, which Ankara regards as the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has waged a 32-year insurrection inside Turkey.
This has created strains with Turkey’s NATO ally the United States, which works with the YPG on the ground in the fight against IS.
Erdogan said the “PKK has no chance of resistance against the power of our state”, despite an upsurge in violence that has seen hundreds of members of the security forces killed since a ceasefire ruptured in 2015.
“The PKK’s Syrian branch — the PYD-YPG — awaits the same fate,” he added.
Erdogan had previously indicated Turkey and the United States have discussed an operation to push IS jihadists out of their de facto capital of Raqa in Syria but there have been no details on the timing or how this would work.