Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Meqdad has warned Turkey against launching a military operation in the country’s northwestern region of Afrin, stressing that Syrian air defense systems are prepared to repel such an attack.
“We warn the Turkish leadership that if they initiate combat operations in the Afrin area, that will be considered an act of aggression by the Turkish army,” he told reporters in Damascus on Thursday.
The comments came after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stated that the recent statements from the United States regarding plans to create a 30,000-strong “terror army” on Syria’s northern borders with Turkey were not satisfactory for the Ankara government.
Cavusoglu told Turkish-language CNN Turk television news network on Thursday that Turkey would intervene in Afrin and Manbij to counter the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militants, and that its mistrust of Washington continues.
The top Turkish diplomat noted that the United States must retake the weapons given to the terrorists, and completely end its cooperation with them.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul said on Thursday that his country “could never remain silent” in the face of developments that threatened its borders and security.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday denied that the United States had any intention to build a Syria-Turkey border force, saying the issue, which has incensed Ankara, had been “misportrayed, [and] misdescribed. Some people misspoke.”
“This statement is important, but Turkey cannot remain silent in the face of any formation which will threaten its borders,” Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul told broadcaster NTV.
Also on Wednesday, the Pentagon said that the controversial new Kurdish-led force was not a new “army” or “border guard” force.
“The US continues to train local security forces in Syria. The training is designed to enhance security for displaced persons returning to their devastated communities,” Pentagon spokesman, Eric Pahon, said in a written statement.
“It is also essential so that ISIS (Daesh) cannot reemerge in liberated and ungoverned areas,” he said.
Ankara views the YPG as the Syrian branch of the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has been fighting for an autonomous region inside Turkey since 1984.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly said that Afrin should be cleared of “terrorists,” and demanded the deployment of Turkish troops there during a speech back in November 2016.
This is while US officials consider the YPG as the most effective fighting force against Daesh Takfiri terrorist group in northern Syria, and have substantially increased their weaponry and technology support to the militant group.