Spotlight: Turkey deploys tanks at Syrian border for new offensive

Source: Xinhua| 2018-01-16 01:12:52|Editor: yan
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by Burak Akinci

ANKARA, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- Turkey deployed tanks and armored vehicles on the Syrian border after warning of an imminent offensive against a Kurdish stronghold in northwestern Syria, an assault which could be however of limited scope, said experts.

"Turkey is ready, our preparations are ready. An operation may start at any moment now," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said during an opening ceremony in Ankara.

He expressed firmly his country's determination to fight against Kurdish militia backed by the United States.

"Russia could give a green light for a limited Turkish military operation. But whatever happens there the most important process will be after the conclusion of such an offensive," Dr. Kerim Has, lecturer at Moscow State University, told Xinhua.

This expert on Russia and international affairs explained that "Russia would want to hold Turkey as close as possible in order to orchestrate the postwar scenario and thus ambitions to have reliable relations with both Ankara and the YPG", the People's Protection Unit, a mainly-Kurdish militia controlling large territories in northwest Syria.

"A comprehensive military operation could prove to be a strategical security trap for Turkey," said Has, reminding that the Russian army presence in Syria is the reason why President Bashar al-Assad is still in power.

Turkey regards the YPG forces who control Afrin province as a terrorist group with links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the militant group that has long battled for autonomy in Turkey's southeast.

The Kurdish fighters' role in a new U.S.-backed force in Syria has deepened Ankara's fear that the Kurds will create a mini-state bordering Turkey, and over the weekend, President Erdogan began warning of a military campaign against them.

Turkish army units fired shells toward YPG positions in and around Afrin on Sunday. The army also beefed up troops in the area with armored personnel carriers and tanks over the weekend, according to state-run Anadolu Agency.

Erdogan has repeatedly accused the YPG of attempting to link Afrin with a large Kurdish-controlled area to the east.

Turkey launched an offensive in northern Syria in 2016 to push back Islamic State (IS) from its border and also block the convergence of the Kurdish-run regions.

Turkey and its western allies, including the United States consider the PKK a terrorist organisation. But the US has supported the YPG to help defeat IS in Syria, which is angering its NATO ally and straining at maximum already tense US-Turkish relations.

The Turkish president said that "despite it all" he wanted to work with the US in the region and hoped it would not side with the YPG during the Afrin operation. "We expect (the US) to support Turkey in its legitimate efforts" to combat terror, Erdogan said.

On Monday Erdogan once again threatened during of an imminent attack but his time citing not only Afrin region but also Manbij, an Arab-populated city, located up east, which remains under the control of the YPG.

"We will not stay still against a bunch of idiots over there (YPG). As you know we are shelling their positions and we will continue to do so," he angrily lashed at the Kurdish militia, adding that "Turkey will protect herself from any national security threat."

Ibrahim Kalin, Turkish Presidential spokesperson, said the U.S. was taking steps to legitimize and solidify the YPG.

"It's absolutely not possible to accept this," he said, stressing that Turkey would defend itself.

Syria and Russia also denounced American-led plan to form such an border army in the next several years.

The Turkey-PKK conflict has killed an estimated 40,000 people since 1984, including more than 3,300 state security forces, militants and civilians since the resumption of hostilities in July 2015.

U.S. backing for the Kurdish forces in the war against IS strained relations with Turkey. Ankara is adamantly opposed to the new force the U.S. is establishing to seal the border with Turkey, in which the Kurds will figure prominently.

"Turkey will not permit that the U.S helps to form a border security force constituted of terrorists. What we have to do is to crush in the nest this army of terrorists," pledged Erdogan on Monday.

Erdogan called on Washington to cease its cooperation with the YPG. Otherwise, he warned "we will not be responsible of consequences" that could also harm American soldiers deployed in northern Syria.

"To organize a military offensive in northern Syria, which should be a limited one, Turkey needs air support and has to get the approval of Russia," said Oytun Orhan, prominent Syria researcher at Ankara based think thank ORSAM.