Turkey will never allow the formation of an “artificial state” in northern Syria, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Sunday, referring to the U.S.-backed Kurdish militias whose advance Ankara is now aiming to stop.
“We will never allow the formation of an artificial state in the north of Syria,” Yildirim said in a speech in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, where he announced an investment program to rebuild parts of the largely Kurdish region that have been destroyed by security operations.
“We are there with Euphrates Shield, we are there to protect our border, to provide for our citizens’ safety of life and property, and to ensure Syria’s integrity.”
Yildirim’s comments echoed those of President Tayyip Erdogan at the G20 gathering of world leaders in China, who told reporters following a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama: “It is our wish that a terror corridor not be formed across our southern border”.
Erdogan has repeatedly said that Turkey’s allies should not be making a distinction between Islamic State and the YPG as both groups pose a threat to Turkey.
Operation “Euphrates Shield”, in which Turkish troops and tanks entered Syria in support of rebels for the first time, began on Aug. 24 with the swift capture of Jarablus, a town a few km (miles) inside Syria that was held by Islamic State.
Turkey has long said it wants a “buffer zone” in the area, although it has not used the term during this incursion. As well as driving out the ultra-hardline Islamists, it also wants to prevent Kurdish militias from taking territory that will let them join up cantons they control in northeast and northwest Syria.
Turkish Defence Minister Fikri Isik said preventing the Kurdish PYD party – the political arm of the YPG – from uniting Kurdish cantons east of Jarablus with those further west was a priority.
After that warning, Syrian rebels backed by Turkish forces started advancing towards Manbij.
“Islamic State should be completely cleansed, this is an absolute must. But it’s not enough for us … The PYD and the YPG militia should not replace Islamic State there,” Isik told Turkish broadcaster NTV.
“The PYD’s biggest dream is to unify the western and eastern cantons. We cannot let this happen,” he said.
“If the PYD does not retreat to east of the Euphrates, we have the right to do everything about it,” the minister said.
Ankara regards the YPG and YPD as allies of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting for an autonomous Kurdish region inside Turkey since the 1980s.