ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s defense minister said Friday there is no turning back from his country’s decision to launch a ground assault on a Syrian Kurdish-controlled enclave in northwest Syria, saying the offensive had “de facto” started with the sporadic Turkish military shelling of the area.
Nurettin Canikli told Turkey’s A Haber television in an interview that the Syrian Kurdish fighters in the enclave of Afrin and other Kurdish-controlled territories pose a “real” and ever increasing threat to Turkey.
“This operation will take place; the terror organization will be cleansed,” Canikli said in reference to the Syrian Kurdish group, the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which Turkey says is an extension of an outlawed Kurdish rebel group that is fighting inside Turkey.
Turkey wants to remove the threat from YPG group and thwart the establishment of a Kurdish corridor along its border. It has been massive troops and tanks along the border in past weeks.
The U.S. however has developed close ties with the YPG over the shared fight against the Islamic State group.
Canikli said Turkey was determined to carry out an offensive in Afrin, and would not be turn back from its decision. He said the operation had “de facto” begun, in reference to Turkish artillery attacks that have been taking place against suspected YPG targets.
He would not say when the operation would take place saying authorities were working out the best timing for the assault. They were also working to minimize possible losses for Turkish troops, he said, without providing details. Canikli said the operation would be conducted by Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters with Turkish troop support.
Canikli also said Turkey had detailed information about the YPG’s military capabilities, adding that Turkey had developed sophisticated weapons since its last incursion into Syria in 2016 that were able to counter them.
In a stark warning to Turkey, Syria said on Thursday said its air defense would shoot down any Turkish jets that carry out attacks within Syria. Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad said a military incursion into Afrin would be “no picnic” for Turkey and would be considered an “aggressive act.”