(Bloomberg) -- Turkey is ready to start a military operation in northern Syria to claim areas from American-backed Kurdish forces and may act “as soon as today or tomorrow,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday.
“We have made our preparations, completed our operation plans,” Erdogan said at an AK Party meeting in Kizilcahamam in Ankara Province. “We have given the necessary orders.” The operation in the east of the Euphrates river in northern Syria “will be carried out on land and air,” he said.
Erdogan has vowed to create a buffer zone inside Syria by pushing back Kurdish militia and settling Syrian refugees in the country’s north. Turkey suspects that the U.S. is backing Kurdish aspirations for self-rule in Syria and is prepared to use military force to prevent what it perceives as an attempt to redraw the region’s map.
Turkey wants to act quickly before winter conditions make it difficult for tanks to operate in muddy terrain, leaving little room for a last-minute settlement with the U.S.
Erdogan has repeatedly called on the U.S. to join forces in expanding a previously negotiated security zone in Syria -- designed to be off-limits to American-backed Kurdish YPG forces -- while threatening an incursion if he didn’t get his way by the end of last month.
The YPG, which played a leading role in the defeat of Islamic State, has been at the heart of Turkey-U.S. tensions. Turkey sees the fighters as a critical threat given their link to the separatist PKK, an autonomy-seeking Kurdish group. It’s considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union.
Erdogan wants to resettle some of the more than 3.6 million Syrians who fled their country’s civil war in the buffer area to alleviate the burden on Turkey’s economy and defuse social tensions over hosting the world’s largest refugee population.
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