Turkey’s military deployed tanks and guns on the Syrian border as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged joint action with the Trump administration against Islamic State in its de facto capital, Raqqa.
The deployment, including long-range guns and armored personnel carriers, followed Erdogan remarked on Saturday that Turkish troops fighting to capture the jihadists’ stronghold of al-Bab in northwest Syria could move first to the town of Manbij and then to Raqqa. The artillery reinforcements were sent to the border towns of Oguzeli and Karkamis, north of Manbij, state-run Anadolu Agency reported Sunday.
Erdogan reiterated his country’s readiness to extend its fight against the jihadist group in Raqqa if U.S. President-elect Donald Trump agrees to block Kurdish forces from participating. Turkey is concerned that Kurdish territorial gains in Syria could lead to a new state there, emboldening the separatist aspirations of its own Kurds. Kurds have established control over much of Syria’s north during five years of violence, and in doing so, emerged as a favored U.S. fighting force in the ground war against Islamic State.
“We will not allow the formation of a new state in northern Syria,” Erdogan said as he vowed to retake Manbij, which was seized by Kurdish forces from Islamic State. “After Manbij, Raqqa is next if we can join hands with the U.S.”
Turkey launched an incursion into Syria in August to fight Islamic State and the Kurdish forces. Turkey regards the Kurds as terrorists because of their links to the PKK, whose fight for autonomy in Turkey’s southeast has, by the government’s account, killed nearly 40,000 people, cost hundreds of billions of dollars, and undermined Turkish aspirations to join the European Union.
“We will declare a safe zone cleared from terrorism in northern Syria,” Erdogan said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, meanwhile, endorsed efforts by Russian President Vladimir Putin to kickstart Syria peace talks in Kazakhstan under a deal that would involve Turkey and Iran, but exclude the U.S. and the American-backed Syrian opposition. While backing opposite sides in the Syrian war, Turkey and Russia have grown closer because of shared security concerns over spillover from the Syrian conflict. Even the assassination last week of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey by a gunman voicing anger over Aleppo did not appear to harm that rapprochement. The day after envoy Andrei Karlov was shot to death in the Turkish capital, Turkey joined Russia and Iran in issuing the “Moscow Declaration” — a bid to broker and guarantee a Syrian peace agreement.
“We need to transition to a political solution in Syria and include Iran” in this effort, Cavusoglu said late Saturday in Antalya. “There should be an administration acceptable to all sides.”