Ankara’s comments come after it announced plans for a new military offensive against US-backed Kurdish militants
Turkey’s top diplomat has pledged to assist the Syrian government in efforts to oust Kurdish fighters based in the country’s northeast, regarded as “terrorists” by Ankara, despite a recent spike in tensions after Turkey made good on threats to take military action on its own.
Speaking to Turkish broadcaster TV100 for an interview on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his country is prepared to work alongside Damascus against Kurdish militants fighting under the banner of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
“We will give all kinds of political support to the work of the [Syrian] regime in this regard. It is the most natural right of the regime to clear a terrorist organization in its own territory,” the FM said of the SDF, which is present in Syria’s northeastern extremity.
Cavusoglu went on to say that Turkey had also reached out to Iran on the matter, as the Islamic Republic has long fought in support of the Syrian government against rebels and jihadist groups during the country’s decade-long civil war.
However, while Damascus has periodically sparred with Kurdish fighters, it has largely focused its efforts on Sunni militant factions – some linked with Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) – and has even cooperated with the SDF and allied Kurdish units in that fight at times.
The Syrian government has yet to respond to Ankara’s offer of support, but has vocally opposed any unilateral Turkish military action on its soil. In June, Turkey announced plans for a new offensive in Syria’s Kurdish-controlled regions, saying it would create a 30-kilometer ‘safe zone’ along the Syria-Turkey border, a plan similar to previous Turkish operations in border cities such as Manbij.
In response, Syria has reportedly fortified a number of positions around its Hasakah and Raqqa provinces with aid from Russian forces, warning it would not tolerate Turkish “aggression.”
Ankara appears unfazed by the warnings, however, as it has already launched armed operations in Hasakah and elsewhere, including a drone strike which killed a prominent female Kurdish commander near Qamishli last week. The attack prompted a message of condolences from Washington, which has long embedded with and supported the SDF, following a failed years-long effort to arm and train Sunni rebels aiming to overthrow the government in Damascus.
Cavusoglu slammed the American statement, calling it “unacceptable” and “a good example of the insincerity of the United States in the fight against terrorism.”
However, while Turkey remains fixated on Kurdish groups, it also supports a force of paramilitary fighters in Syria which it calls the ‘Syrian National Army’, largely made up of remnants of the rebel Free Syrian Army, another formerly US-backed faction. The FM insisted Damascus must distinguish between ‘terrorists’ and the ‘moderate opposition’, apparently referring to the Turkish-backed units operating in Syria.