ISTANBUL - Turkish President Recep Erdogan on Tuesday stepped up threats to launch a cross-border operation against the Syrian Kurdish militia known as the YPG, which the U.S. backs in the war against Islamic State militants. Ankara sees the YPG as a terrorist organization linked to an ongoing Kurdish insurgency in Turkey.
Erdogan used his weekly parliamentary address to his ruling AK Party supporters to say the operation could be imminent.
"Tomorrow, or the day after, or within a short period, we will get rid of terror nests one by one in Syria, starting with Afrin and Manbij," Erdogan said.
Both Afrin and Manbij are areas under the control of the YPG in Syria. The Turkish president also chided his NATO partners for failing to address Turkey’s concerns over the Kurdish militia.
"You are duty-bound to strike a certain pose against anyone that harasses one of your partners," he said.
The head of Turkey's armed forces, Hulusi Akar, is holding talks Tuesday in Brussels with his NATO counterparts.
Concern over 'border force'
Akar is also expected to confer with the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford in Brussels. Erdogan said concerns over Washington’s plans to create a Syrian "border force" would be raised during that meeting.
The planned 30,000 strong contingent triggered Ankara’s threat of military action because it would likely draw heavily on YPG personnel. Erdogan has called the proposed force a “terror army” and vowed to destroy it. U.S. officials see the force is key to containing any future threat by Islamic State terrorists.
While Ankara previously issued similar military threats against the YPG as the militia made sweeping gains against Islamic State along Turkey’s border, this latest warning is widely seen as the most serious.
Erdogan Tuesday said that the planned operation against the YPG would involve Syrian rebel forces. Turkey is boosting its forces on the Syrian border and has been pounding YPG-controlled territory with artillery in the past few days.
Turkish-U.S. relations are deeply strained over Washington’s support of the Syrian Kurdish militia. Tensions eased briefly in November after Erdogan said he received a commitment from President Donald Trump that the U.S. was ending its support of the YPG, a claim that Washington did not confirm.