President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signalled Turkish forces may soon carry out an attack on a Kurdish stronghold in northwest Syria, a day after the army shelled the area.
Turkey regards the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) who control Afrin as a terrorist group with links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which has long battled for autonomy in Turkey’s southeast. The Kurds received US backing in their fight against ISIL in Syria and the policy of arming them stoked tension between the NATO allies.
“In coming days, we will continue our operations in Afrin to clear our southern border” of terrorists, Mr Erdogan told a meeting of his party in Tokat province on Sunday. Turkish officials vowed similar action on several occasions last year.
Mr Erdogan added that he’s waiting for backing from allies, without elaborating. Turkey’s National Security Council, which advises on military actions, is scheduled to meet on January 17.
Mr Erdogan has repeatedly accused the YPG of attempting to link Afrin with a large Kurdish-controlled area to the east. Turkey launched its Euphrates Shield offensive in northern Syria in 2016 to push back ISIL from its border and block the convergence of the Kurdish-run regions.
An earlier peacekeeping deployment in Idlib, to the south of Afrin, denied the Kurds access to the Mediterranean Sea -- a prized target for a planned Kurdish corridor running all the way to northern Iraq.
The Turkey-PKK conflict has killed an estimated 40,000 people since 1984 and the resumption of hostilities in July 2015 killed more than 3,300 people, including state security forces, militants and civilians.