Turkey intends to completely clear northern Syria of Kurdish militiamen from the U.S.-allied People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ), considered by Ankara to be affiliated with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) terrorist group, Turkish officials indicated this week.
Echoing comments by Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan declared on Monday that his country aims to seize control of the region of northern Syria easter of the Euphrates, controlled by the YPG, the armed wing of Democratic Union Party (PYD), Reuters reported.
Erdogan also said that Turkey intends to clear northern Iraq’s Sinjar and Qandil regions, home to the PKK’s main headquarters.
While speaking to reporters in Geneva after Monday’s meeting on “Strategic Dialogue in the Western Balkans” at the World Economic Forum (WEF), Cavusoglu stressed that the time to rid northern Syria of the YPG is now, according to Hurriyet Daily News.
Turkey has already pushed the YPG out of some regions in northern Syria, namely Afrin, and is working with the United States on withdrawing the Kurdish militiamen from Manbij under a deal reached by Ankara and Washington.
Referring to Turkish and U.S. troops starting out training exercises together to carry out joint patrols soon Manbij as part of the agreement, the FM said, “There is a slight delay in the schedule, but the separate coordinated [Turkish and the U.S.] patrols in the Manbij region conducted up to now were important.”
“Now is time to take completely take the YPG out of Manbij and leave the region to the locals, both in terms of administration and security,” he added.
While accusing the United States of delaying the agreement, Cavusoglu said the deal is working.
Training is the last step before Turkey and the United States carry out joint patrols to pull out the YPG from Manbij, Hurriyet noted.
“The training now is underway, and we’ll just have to see how that goes,” U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis acknowledged to reporters on Monday, added the Turkish news outlet.
“We have every reason to believe the joint patrols will be coming on time when the training syllabus is complete so that we do it right,” the Pentagon chief added.
Mattis estimated the training, expected to take place in Turkey, will take a few weeks.
Although America’s NATO ally Turkey has long accused the YPG of being an extension of the PKK, deemed a terrorist group by Ankara and Washington, the U.S. continues to work with the Syrian Kurdish fighters against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
U.S. support for the YPG has angered Turkey and strained the relationship between the two NATO allies, pushing Ankara closer to Moscow despite being on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict.
While Russia supports Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, Turkey backs opposition groups.