Turkish forces will remain in Syria for as long as it takes to cleanse the border of Islamic State and other militants, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Friday, after a truck bombing by Kurdish insurgents killed at least 11 police officers.
The suicide attack at a police headquarters in a province bordering Syria and Iraq came two days after Turkey launched its first major military incursion into Syria, an operation meant to drive Islamic State out of the border area and stop Kurdish militias from seizing ground in their wake.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that ISIS had been driven out of Jarablus and that it was now controlled by Turkish-backed Syrian rebels.
But Erdogan and senior government officials have made it clear that the aim of “Operation Euphrates Shield” is as much about stopping the Kurdish YPG from seizing more territory along the border and filling the void left by ISIS as it is about eliminating the hardline group itself.
Turkey, a NATO member and part of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, has seen a series of deadly bombings this year blamed on the radical Islamists. But it also fears Kurdish militias in Syria will seize a swathe of border territory and embolden Kurdish insurgents on its own soil.
President Tayyip Erdogan said the bombing in Sirnak province would increase Turkey’s determination as it fights terrorist groups at home and abroad. Yildirim said there was no doubt the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency for Kurdish autonomy, was responsible.
“From the beginning we have been defending Turkey’s territorial integrity. We are also defending Syria’s territorial integrity. The aim of these terrorist organizations is … to form a state in these countries… They will never succeed,” Yildirim told a news conference in Istanbul.
“We will continue our operations (in Syria) until we fully guarantee security of life and property for our citizens and the security of our border. We will continue until Daesh (Islamic State) and other terrorist elements are taken out.”
After he spoke, the PKK claimed responsibility for the attack on the police headquarters, according to a website affiliated to the group.
Syria has condemned the Turkish operation, codenamed “Euphrates Shield”, as a breach of its sovereignty. Turkish special forces, tanks and jets launched the incursion in support of Syrian rebels, mostly Turkmen and Arab, who quickly took the border town of Jarablus from Islamic State on Wednesday.
An alliance of 23 Kurdish parties in Syria also condemned the Turkish operation on Friday. In a joint statement, they called for a complete withdrawal of all Turkish forces from the country and accused Ankara of trying to occupy Syria under the pretence of fighting terrorism.