‘It won’t take long for the operation to begin. It depends only on the president giving the word’
Turkey’s army needs “just a few days” to be ready for a ground attack into northern Syria, Turkish officials said, noting that such a decision could come at a cabinet meeting on Monday.
The update came as Turkish forces bombarded a Kurdish militia across the border. Meanwhile, Turkey has been firing mortars and carrying out airstrikes against Kurdish targets for the past week.
“The Turkish Armed Forces needs just a few days to become almost fully ready,” one senior official said, adding that Turkey-allied Syrian rebel fighters have been ready for weeks.
“It won’t take long for the operation to begin,” he continued. “It depends only on the president giving the word.”
Tensions escalated after a deadly bomb attack in Istanbul two weeks ago that Ankara blamed on Kurdish YPG militants. The Syrian-based militia denied involvement in the incident and has responded to Turkish attacks with occasional cross-border mortar shelling of its own.
Turkey considers YPG to be a wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is blacklisted as a terrorist group by Ankara as well as its Western allies and has kept up a deadly insurgency for Kurdish self-rule in southeastern Turkey since the 1980s.
The PKK also denied taking part in the Istanbul attack, in which six people were killed and more than 80 were wounded. There has been no claim of responsibility, but some 50 people were detained, including Syrian woman Ahlam Albashir.
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Last week, Ankara said Turkey plans to pursue targets in northern Syria after it completed a cross-border operation against PKK militants in Iraq. As part of its Operation “Claw-Sword,” Turkey’s military hit nearly 500 Kurdish targets across Iraq and Syria in an air campaign.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would launch a land operation when convenient to secure its southern border, and another Turkish official told Reuters: “All the preparations are complete. It’s now a political decision.”
Ankara is in contact with Moscow and Washington about its military activities, the Turkish official noted. But the United States has voiced its concerns to Turkey that an escalation would affect its goal of fighting Islamic State militants in Syria, as it is the Kurds who are doing most of the fighting against the jihadist Islamic camp. Russia also urged Ankara to refrain from a full-scale offensive, as it doesn’t want Turkey to implement its maximalist aspirations – establishing a Turkish buffer zone across the border – which could lead to further destabilization in the country and hinder Moscow’s activity there.