Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatens unilateral action to create Syria 'safe zone'

Turkish president wants his troops to be given control of border area 'within weeks'

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech to graduates of a military academy in Istanbul, on August 31, 2019. Presidential Press Service via AP
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech to graduates of a military academy in Istanbul, on August 31, 2019. Presidential Press Service via AP

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to send his troops into Syria unilaterally if the United States does not agree to give it control of a proposed safe zone along the border.

"We do not have much time or patience regarding the safe zone which will be established along our entire border east of the Euphrates," Mr Erdogan said at a graduation ceremony at the National Defence University in Istanbul.

"If our soldiers do not control the region within a few weeks, we will put our own operation plan into effect."

He said he wanted Turkish soldiers to start setting up the safe zone in two to three weeks.

Washington and Ankara have been at odds over plans for the region in north-eastern Syria where the US-backed force led by the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia has been fighting ISIS.

Ankara considers the YPG a terrorist group because it says it has links to Kurdish militants in Turkey.

Turkey and the United States have set up a joint operation centre for the planned zone along the border but have disagreed over the size of the zone or the command structure of the forces to operate there.

The YPG has said it would co-operate with the US-Turkish plan and last week announced that it had withdrawn from border positions in Tal Abyad and Ras Al Ain.

US President Donald Trump proposed the safe zone last year, he abandoned plans to withdraw US special forces from northern Syria but he later suspended the plan to ensure Washington’s Kurdish allies would be protected.

An official in the YPG-led alliance said on Tuesday that the YPG would pull forces and heavy weapons from a strip along Syria's border with Turkey under US-Turkish deals.

US support for the YPG has enraged Turkey, which views the militia as a terrorist organisation closely tied to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group which has fought a decades-old insurgency in south-east Turkey.

Ankara, Washington and European Union designate the PKK as a terrorist group.

Ankara and Washington have also fallen out over Turkey's purchase of Russian S-400 missile defence systems, prompting Washington to begin removing Ankara from its programme for manufacturing F-35 jets, which Turkey also planned to buy.

Updated: September 1, 2019 09:28 PM

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