ANKARA – The prospect of a head-on clash between the Turkish armed forces and troops loyal to the Syrian government posed an increasing threat on Monday amid stark warnings from Ankara’s top diplomat that not even the arrival of Syrian troops to the enclave of Afrin would hinder his country’s military objective to wrest control of that region from Kurdish militias.
Officials from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) Kurdish militias currently in control of the northwestern Syrian enclave recently announced that an agreement had been struck with President Bashar al-Assad to grant government troops safe access to the disputed territory, which is the ongoing target of a Turkish military incursion spear-headed on the ground by local rebel groups sponsored by Ankara.
“The (Syrian) regime can enter Afrin if it wants. If they are coming to clean out the YPG then there is no problem. But if they are coming to protect them, then nothing can stop us. No-one can stop the Turkish army,” Turkey’s foreign minister, Melvut Cavusoglu, told a press conference during his visit to Jordan on Monday.
Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20 in a bid to clear its southern borders of the YPG militias, which it views as a terror group intrinsically linked to its more habitual enemy, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an insurgent group in eastern Turkey.
“We will always respect the territorial integrity of Syria,” Cavusoglu added.
The military intervention has pitted Turkey against some of its international allies, including the United States, which has provided military backing to the YPG in its operations against the Islamic State terror organization in northern and eastern Syria.
Assad, too, has denounced the maneuver as a breach of his country’s sovereignty.
The rebels groups backed by Turkey, predominantly aligned to the Free Syrian Army opposition, are viewed as terror groups by the Damascus regime.