Turkey’s threats to strike a Kurdish militia in Syria continued even as Pentagon officials met with their counterparts in Ankara in an attempt to hammer out a deal to protect the American-backed forces fighting ISIS.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave a televised speech Tuesday promising an imminent invasion in northern Syria to attack Kurdish YPG forces.
“God willing, we will carry the process started with [previous offensives] to the next stage very soon,” Erdoğan said. “Turkey has the right to eliminate all threats against its national security.”
He added a message for the United States: “Turkey expects steps from the US befitting of a NATO ally and strategic partner.”
Defense Secretary Mark Esper has been in regular contact with his Turkish counterpart, Hulusi Akar, about Turkey’s security interests in the area. But he warned the NATO ally against any incursions.
“Clearly, we do believe any unilateral action by them would be unacceptable,” Esper told reporters Tuesday on his way to Japan. “And so what we’re trying to do now is work out with them an arrangement to address their concerns, and I’m hopeful we’ll get there.”
The Pentagon sent a delegation to Turkey this week to try another round of talks to establish a safe zone in Syria. The U.S. embassy in Turkey released a statement after negotiations concluded Wednesday, saying the two sides had agreed to “the rapid implementation of initial measures to address Turkey’s security concerns” and would “coordinate and manage the establishment of the safe zone together.” That safe zone, the statement said, “shall become a peace corridor,” allowing displaced Syrians to return to their country.
The safe zone would, in theory, serve as a buffer between Turkey and Kurdish YPG forces.
Turkey considers the YPG an offshoot of the PKK, a separatist group that has fought an insurgency in Turkey for more than three decades. The YPG has been a key U.S. partner in countering ISIS, in some cases responsible for a majority of the fighting.
The Turkish military has spent weeks increasing its presence on its southern border with Syria and has carried out two unilateral offensives into the country to counter the Islamic State and the YPG.
While ISIS’ land caliphate in Iraq and Syria has been destroyed, an inspector general report released Tuesday found the terrorist group “consolidated its insurgency in Iraq and resurged in Syria” in the spring and summer of this year. Many experts believe the group is reconstituting itself by returning to its insurgent roots.