Turkey yesterday said it was ready for an offensive against Kurdish militants in northern Syria despite mixed signals from US President Donald Trump over whether he had approved the operation.
The United States pulled back 50 to 100 “special operators” from Syria’s northern frontier on Monday, where they had served as a buffer preventing a long-planned assault by the Turkish military against Kurdish forces.
Trump’s surprise move drew heavy criticism from top Republicans that he was abandoning the Kurds, who were crucial in the years-long campaign to defeat Islamic State.
But he later appeared to backpedal, warning Turkey that he would “obliterate” the country’s economy if it went too far -- without explaining what that meant.
“If Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!),” Trump tweeted.
Ankara brushed aside the threat on Tuesday, with Vice-President Fuat Oktay saying: “Turkey is not a country that will act according to threats.”
Turkey has always pushed hard against Washington’s support for Kurdish forces in Syria due to their links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which is fighting a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
Its defence ministry tweeted that preparations for an offensive in northern Syria have been “completed”.
Trump yesterday said he hasn’t abandoned the Kurds in Syria. “We may be in the process of leaving Syria, but in no way have we Abandoned the Kurds, who are special people and wonderful fighters,” Trump tweeted yesterday.
Iran, a key backer of the Syrian government, also said it opposed any military action by Turkey.
Ankara says it wants to establish a “safe zone” on the Syrian side of the border where it could send back some of the 3.6 million refugees from the eight-year civil war.
A Turkish attack raised the specter of some 10,000 Islamic State fighters currently held by the SDF being let loose if SDF soldiers have to battle Turkish troops.