President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has announced that Turkey is planning to launch a new military operation in northern Syria to establish a safe zone in the region and secure Turkey’s southern border.
Erdoğan, who spoke following a Cabinet meeting on Monday, said the aim of the operation will be to resume Turkish efforts to create a 30-kilometer safe zone along its border with Syria.
“We will soon take new steps regarding the incomplete portions of the project we started on the 30-kilometer-deep safe zone we established along our southern border,” Erdoğan said, adding that the operation would begin after Turkey’s military, intelligence and security forces complete their preparations.
The Turkish president’s comments came at a time when Turkey is objecting to Sweden and Finland’s membership in NATO, citing the two countries alleged support for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and other groups that Turkey views as terrorist, as well as their decision to impose restrictions on military sales to Turkey following Ankara’s incursion into Syria in 2019.
Erdoğan also said Turkey’s operation will prioritize the areas in Syria where Turkey receives the most attacks and where those attacks are planned, meaning areas mostly controlled by the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Turkey and its proxies have seized control of territory inside Syria over several military operations launched since 2016 against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the YPG.
Ankara views the YPG as the Syrian branch of the PKK, which has been waging a deadly war against the Turkish state that has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1984.
Erdoğan’s remarks about a new military operation in northern Syria also comes at a time when there is a growing public discomfort in Turkey about refugees.
Turkey is today home to more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees who fled after civil war broke out in 2011 in its southern neighbor.
Erdoğan is facing rising public anger over the refugees and is wary of the issue dominating next year’s presidential election.
Turkey has welcomed nearly 5 million refugees in total, including Syrians and Afghans, but their presence has caused tensions with locals, especially as the country is in economic turmoil with the weakening lira and soaring energy and food prices.
Erdoğan said earlier this month that Ankara was aiming to encourage 1 million refugees to return home by building housing and local infrastructure in Syria.