Erdogan Threatens to Clear Syria-Turkey Border of U.S.-backed Kurdish Rebels

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan once again threatened to attack a region bordering Syria and “clear it of terrorists,” Associated Press reported. Erdogan spoke at a rally in the central province of Karaman on Sunday, reiterating his readiness to not allow “terror nests” near its border, referring to areas held by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units or YPG in northern Syria.

Ankara considers the YPG a terrorist organization and an extension of a Kurdish insurgency group within its own borders, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. In last year’s large military operation Euphrates Shield, Turkey cleared part of its border of YPG militants and the Islamic State.

The YPG has been supported by the U.S. in arms and expertise, with this leading to an open confrontation with Turkey. Ankara officials regularly criticize the U.S. for backing and arming Syrian Kurds in combatting ISIS, a sticky issue in already tense relations between the two NATO allies.

Erdogan announced an expanded list of areas to be cleared. “We will clean Afrin of terrorists, we will clean Manbij of terrorists. We will clean Tel Abyad, Ras al-Ayn and Qamishli of terrorists,” he said.

Since November, Turkey has a military presence in the western Syrian province of Idlib as part of a de-escalation agreement struck with Russia and Iran. The province borders YPG-controlled Afrin and Turkey has threatened to attack the group there.

Erdogan has frequently expressed frustration with the Syrian Kurdish militant group’s presence at Turkey’s border. But this is the first time he mentions Qamishli, a town further east controlled by both the Syrian Kurds and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government. Last month, Turkey’s foreign minister said President Donald Trump promised to stop arming the militant group but the Pentagon said it was reviewing the process, stopping short of announcing a halt to weapons transfers.

Meanwhile, Turkish media have reported that the U.S. is considering various conflict scenarios with Turkey in the Kurdish-controlled city of Afrin, quoting a report published by the Rand Corporation, a Washington-based think-tank.

According to Yeni Safak, the report, titled “U.S. Strategic Interests in the Middle East and Implications for the Army,” opposing interests between Ankara and Washington may lead to possible clashes between the two countries, deeming a potential confrontation to be “not entirely out of the question.”