ISTANBUL – Turkey says it will continue its military operations against U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces, after blaming Kurdish separatists for a recent bombing in Istanbul. Ankara says it’s ready to launch a Syrian cross-border operation but faces growing international calls for restraint
International pressure is growing on Ankara as Moscow joins calls for restraint as Turkish forces continue their military operations against the YPG, a Syrian Kurdish militia. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Tuesday a land operation could be imminent.
“We have been bearing down on terrorists for a few days with our planes, cannons, and guns,” Erdogan said in a speech. “God willing, we will root out all of them as soon as possible, together with our tanks, our soldiers.”
Ankara claims the YPG facilitated this month’s fatal bombing in Istanbul, a charge the group denies. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, speaking Monday, warned there would be no letup in its attacks.
He said Turkey would make them pay for all the crimes they have committed today and before. “They will pay for them,” the defense minister said.
Akar said 184 militants had been neutralized in its ongoing assault. Monday, tensions escalated further, with Ankara claiming three civilians were killed in cross-border rocket attacks from Syrian Kurdish militants. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Monday said a ground assault into Syria was possible.
Asli Aydintasbas of the Brookings Institution in Washington says such displays are not unexpected, with elections approaching in June.
“It’s not uncommon to see a cross-border operation in election years. But also Turkey has long wanted to do this and I think elections is introducing a timeline that works for the government and also Turkey feels its hand is strong.”
Washington has warned Ankara against any cross-border operation. The United States backs the YPG in its war against the Islamic State group.
However, Defense Minister Akar dismissed Washington’s concerns, calling for an end to U.S. support of the YPG, saying it is affiliated with the PKK, which is fighting the Turkish state for greater minority rights.
Aydin Selcen is a former senior Turkish diplomat, who served in the region and is now a regional analyst for Medyascope, a news portal.
“Time and again, Ankara, Erdogan, and other actors like defense minister Akar made clear Turkey is not happy with the US equipping and training the YPG, which is a direct extension of the PKK in Syria, and Ankara considers that as the main problem.”
But in rare common ground with Washington, Kremlin spokesman Dimitri Peskov Tuesday called on Turkey for restraint.
The Iranian-backed militia in Syria has also warned Ankara against any military operations into Syria.
With Turkish forces already controlling a large swathe of northern Syria from previous operations against Syrian Kurdish militants, analysts say Tehran is concerned with growing Turkish influence in Syria.
But Turkish Analyst Ilhan Uzgel of the Kisa Dalga news portal says Erdogan could see the current tensions as a bargaining opportunity.
“He tries to use this bargaining chip to get something from the West. I mean, it can be the purchase of F-16 fighter jets from the United States. He knows how to make bargains. He knows to what extent (he) can push the issue.”
Turkey’s purchase of F-16 fighter jets remains stalled in the U.S. Congress.
Whatever Turkey’s intentions, analysts predict Ankara is likely to keep tensions and rhetoric high as it seeks to keep enemies and allies guessing on what its real intentions are.