Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday accused the United States and Russia of failing to keep the promises they made when negotiating a ceasefire between Turkey’s invasion force and Syrian Kurdish militia.
“It has been well over 150 hours since we signed a deal with Russia but the terrorists are still in the region and continue to attack the Syrian National Army soldiers,” Erdogan declared, claiming 11 fighters from the Syrian National Army (SNA) were killed in a firefight on Thursday.
The SNA is a group of Islamist militia organizations, largely known in the past as the Free Syrian Army, which has allied with Turkey against the Kurds.
SNA commanders claimed this week that at least 144 of their fighters have been killed in YPG attacks since the Turkish incursion began a month ago. Erdogan hailed the SNA casualties as “martyrs” and holy warriors in an address to his Islamist AKP party on October 30.
Erdogan’s references to “terrorists” mean the YPG, the Kurdish militia group that allied with the United States to combat ISIS in Syria. Turkey sees the YPG as a branch of the PKK, the violent Kurdish separatist party in Turkey. The stated reason Turkey invaded Syria was to push YPG forces back from the border so they cannot assist the PKK.
“Neither the U.S. could take out these terrorists from the area in 120 hours time limit, nor could Russia take out these terrorists from the area in 150 hours time limit,” Erdogan said, referencing the two different cease-fire agreements he made in October.
Erdogan and other Turkish officials previously said they were satisfied with the withdrawal of Kurdish forces, but claim to have changed their minds because the Kurds are attacking Turkish proxies.
For their part, the Kurds say Turkey’s aggressive SNA allies are pushing deeper into Syria than the “safe area” near the border demanded by Erdogan and are shelling new towns and villages to prepare for further ground action.
Voice of America News (VOA) explained that while Erdogan appears to be playing hardball with the U.S. ahead of his visit to Washington next week, his real problem is with Moscow.
Turkey has cultivated a closer relationship with Russia over the past few years, perhaps in part to rattle the U.S. and European Union, and expects the Russians to use their influence in Syria to resolve the Kurdish issue. Russia, however, has longstanding ties to the Syrian Kurds – and even the PKK, which actually has offices in Moscow.
“The Turkish intervention in Syria, it lasted to a certain point, but Turkey only achieved half of its target aim, not the whole. That’s why Erdogan is playing for time, and Russia tries to stop Turkey from moving deeper into Syria,” Huseyin Bagci of the Middle East Technical University in Ankara told VOA.
Erdogan on Friday touted the beginning of joint Turkish-Russian patrols in the Syrian border region, but he also warned Turkey will “respond in the harshest way to any attacks,” and “if needed” will expand its “safe zone.”
In particular, Erdogan has repeatedly demanded the Kurdish city of Kobani must be “brought under our control.”
Kobani was the scene of a furious battle against the Islamic State and is unlikely to be relinquished easily by the Kurds. Russia is apparently trying to convince Erdogan that any potential threat to Turkish security can be neutralized by joint patrols, one of which came within five miles of the city this week. Local residents responded by pelting the Russian-Turkish convoy with rocks.