ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey is ready to act on its southern border with Syria, President Tayyip Erdogan said, after warning that it could take unilateral steps if the U.S. does not establish a “safe zone” in northeast Syria this month.
“Our preparations along our borders are complete,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul on Saturday before departing to attend a U.N. General Assembly meeting.
NATO allies Turkey and the U.S. have started joint land and air patrols along part of the border strip, but Ankara says Washington is moving too slowly to establish a sufficiently large safe zone to push Syrian Kurdish forces from the border.
Turkey has been angered by U.S. support for Kurdish-led forces which fought Islamic State in Syria. It considers the Kurdish YPG fighters a terrorist organization and wants them removed from more than 400 km (250 miles) of border.
The YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces has said they will pull back up to 14 km in some areas. Turkey says the U.S. had agreed that the “safe zone” should extend 32 km into Syria.
Erdogan reiterated complaints over U.S. support for the Kurdish fighters, saying Washington was providing them with arms.
“We have no wish to come face to face with the U.S.” he said. “However, we cannot afford to overlook the support that the U.S. is giving to a terrorist organization.”
His comments about border preparations came a day after two security sources said doctors have been stationed in southern Turkish provinces to prepare for a possible incursion into Syria.
One source said doctors' leave had been suspended. “We have been preparing for a long time,” the source said. “The operation can be conducted whenever deemed necessary.”
Turkey has already launched two military incursions into northern Syria since 2016, targeting Islamic State and YPG forces west of the Euphrates
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Irem Koca; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editor Mike Harrison)