Syrian Kurdish forces ready to repel Turkish ground invasion, commander says

SDF chief says Kurdish-led troops are prepared for a 'great battle' in north-east Syria

Syrian Kurds at a funeral of people killed in Turkish air strikes in the village of Al Malikiyah in northern Syria on Monday. AP
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Kurdish forces in north-east Syria say they are prepared for a new Turkish assault as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan steps up claims of an imminent ground invasion.

Mazloum Abdi, head of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, told AP that his forces have been preparing for another attack since Turkey seized control of parts of the north-east in 2019.

“We believe that we have reached a level where we can foil any new attack,” said Mr Abdi. He added that there would be a “great battle” in the event of another invasion from Ankara.

Turkey will, step by step, establish a so-called “safe zone” in the north-east, Mr Erdogan said on Wednesday. A day earlier, he said Ankara would send ground troops into the region “as soon as possible”.

It would be the fourth major military incursion Turkey has carried out in Syria since 2016.

In 2019, Turkey established a “safety corridor” in Syria's north-east, displacing more than 300,000 in what it said was an operation against the SDF, a key US ally in the fight against ISIS. Ankara says the group is a threat to its national security and plans to resettle in Turkey those Syrian refugees from areas it conquers.

It also holds Afrin in the north-west, near Aleppo. Kurdish authorities accuse Turkey and its proxies of committing human rights abuses in areas under its control.

Turkey will extend the corridor to include Tel Rifaat, Manbij and Kobani, Mr Erdogan told his AKP party, referring to areas currently under Kurdish control he described as “sources of trouble”.

“We are continuing the air operation and will come down hard on the terrorists from land at the most convenient time for us,” he said in parliament.

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, right, and top army commanders at the Air Force command centre, in Ankara, Turkey, on Sunday. AP

Turkey has pounded various locations across north-east Syria in recent days, targeting areas held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which it insists is an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). It has hit key infrastructure, including oil and gasfields.

It hit Kurdish positions inside a Russian military base on Wednesday, a Kurdish official told AFP, killing one Kurdish fighter and wounding three. Moscow has asked Turkey to avoid a full-scale invasion, the agency reported.

Turkey claims that the PKK, which for decades has waged an insurgency against the Turkish government, is behind a bombing that killed six people in Istanbul this month.

Mr Erdogan had promised harsh action in the aftermath of the attack, which authorities say was planned in the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani. Germany has warned Ankara that it must take proportionate action and not target civilians.

Three people, including a child, were killed after a rocket struck a Turkish border town on Monday.

The SDF is making “every effort” to avoid a major catastrophe, Mr Abdi said on Sunday.

“The attacks will not be limited to our regions which are now being subjected to aggressive and barbaric bombing,” he said.

Updated: November 23, 2022, 12:52 PM