ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday said his country’s patience with US efforts to create a safe zone in northern Syria was running out, indicating an operation was imminent.
The two NATO allies, Turkey and the United States, agreed in August to establish a buffer zone to keep Syrian Kurdish militants away from the Turkish border and help repatriate refugees.
Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to launch a unilateral operation against the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) if the buffer zone was delayed.
“At the current stage, we have no other choice other than to proceed on our own path,” he said in the televised speech.
“We have tried every path. We have been extremely patient,” he said. “We cannot afford to lose a single day.”
The YPG, which controls a swathe of land east of the Euphrates in northern Syria, is a key partner for Washington in the fight against the Islamic State group, but Ankara says it is a “terrorist” offshoot of Kurdish separatists in its own territory.
Erdogan has hoped the buffer zone will kill two birds with one stone, saying it will also allow the return of up to two million Syrian refugees.
“We are of course aware of the economic, social and cultural challenges caused by 3.6 million refugees because the Syrian crisis has been protracted,” he said.
He accused Western countries of deliberately refusing to share the refugee burden, saying they did so “to bring our country to its knees.
“I am asking you: Is Turkey a weak country that can accept such an imposition, blackmailing and vile game?”
The Turkish military has twice launched cross-border operations into Syria against the YPG and Islamic State group, in 2016 and 2018.