The Turkish military shelled positions in the north of Syria this morning, a day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to remove fighters belonging to the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Daesh east of the Euphrates.
“We will destroy the terror structure east of the Euphrates River,” Erdogan told lawmakers in parliament yesterday. “We have started active intervention operations against the terror organisation in the last couple of days. We will soon come down hard on the terror organisation with more extensive and effective operations.”
This morning, attacks continued east of Jarablus on villages near Kobane, with several tanks rolling into the area. The city of Tal Abyad even further east was also targeted with heavy weaponry.
A senior Kurdish official responded to the attacks earlier today, telling journalists that Turkey’s offensive is not only against the YPG, but against the entire international coalition.
Turkey has been angered by America’s backing of Kurdish groups in the fight against Daesh. Under the banner of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), militias primarily made up of the YPG, an offshoot of the designated terror organisation the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), have secured swathes of land in the north of Syria.
President Erdogan made an indirect reference to US support in his speech yesterday: “A power, which uses all terrorist organisations indiscriminately as a lever to achieve its goals in the region, is now trying to reproduce this disgusting game.”
Erdogan issued what he said was a “final warning” last week to those who would endanger Turkey’s borders. He said then that Turkey would focus its attention on the east of the Euphrates, rather than the Manbij area just west of the river.
Since January, Turkey has been undertaking an air and ground offensive in Syria as part of “Operation Olive Branch” against the YPG. After securing Afrin in March, Erdogan expressed a desire to move towards Manbij where the US has 2,000 special forces, troops, straining relations with Washington. However, the NATO allies seemed to have come to a compromise in June, with an announcement that military patrols would be conducted together in a bid to ease tensions. The joint patrols are due to start within the next few days.
In his speech yesterday, the Turkish premier also referenced the government’s desire to clear the north of Daesh militants.
“Neither people in the region, nor the world, believe in the Daesh game,” he said. “Turkey will never allow ISIL [Daesh] to drag Idlib and then all of Syria into chaos by inciting the regime or reviving Daesh in the region.”
Whilst the so-called Islamic State has lost swathes of territory since its establishment in 2014, a network of terror cells have launched attacks against Turkish forces and opposition groups. The SDF is also engaged in a battle with militants in the southeast of the country, with both sides sustaining heavy casualties.