Turkey will launch an offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces if the US delays the withdrawal of its troops from the war-torn country, the foreign minister has said.
“If the [pullout] is put off with ridiculous excuses like Turks are massacring Kurds, which do not reflect the reality, we will implement this decision,” Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told NTV television.
Turkey and the US are at loggerheads over the future of Syrian Kurdish forces after the US president, Donald Trump, made a surprise announcement last month to withdraw 2,000 troops from Syria.
Ahead of Trump’s move, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, threatened to launch another operation in Syria targeting the US-backed Syrian Kurdish militia, which Turkey regards as a terrorist group.
Turkish officials had a tense meeting this week with Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, in Ankara aimed at coordinating the pullout process.
Erdoğan – who has welcomed the pullout plan – accused Bolton of a “grave mistake” by demanding that Ankara provide assurances on the safety of the Kurdish fighters before Washington withdraws its troops.
The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who is on a regional tour, also said on Wednesday that Turkey had committed to protecting Washington’s Kurdish allies fighting Islamic State in Syria.
American forces have worked closely with the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, seen by Ankara as a “terrorist offshoot” of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
Çavuşoğlu said Turkey would go ahead with its incursion plan.
“We are determined on the field and at the table … We will decide on its timing and we will not receive permission from anyone.”
He also said some officials in the US administration had sought to deter Trump from the pullout plan and create “excuses” like Turkey is massacring Kurds, in reference to Pompeo’s comments.
Çavuşoğlu said Ankara would fight the YPG whether or not the US withdraws from Syria. He also said he was planning to have a phonecall with Pompeo on Thursday.