Turkish Defense Minister Yaşar Güler stressed in an exclusive interview with the Milliyet daily on Friday that Turkish forces will not leave northern Syria until several conditions are met, including the creation of a secure environment.
Güler outlined the requirements for withdrawal, which include the creation of a new Syrian constitution, the holding of democratic elections and the formation of a government that represents all Syrians.
“We have 4 million Syrians in Turkey, and another 5 million in Idlib at risk of becoming refugees. How can we leave without ensuring a secure environment?” Güler said.
Güler defended Turkey’s military operations in northern Syria, saying they aim to protect Turkish citizens. “Operations Olive Branch and Euphrates Shield were carried out because terrorists were attacking our citizens,” he said.
Turkey has established direct control over swaths of land in northern Syria through successive offensives against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) since 2018. The YPG, a Syrian Kurdish armed group that played a crucial role in the coalition task force set up to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), is viewed by Ankara as an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and thus a terrorist organization.
Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, revealed that Iran had proposed an action plan to both the Assad regime and Turkey. The plan involves Turkey pledging to withdraw its forces in exchange for the Syrian regime’s commitment to secure the border.
Abdollahian said Iran and Russia could act as guarantors of this agreement. He added that the Assad regime is prepared to secure the border with Turkey.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had amicable relations in the 2000s after years of tensions between their countries following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire.
But Syria’s civil war, which has left some 500,000 people dead and displaced millions, strained relations between Damascus and Ankara, which has long supported rebel groups opposed to Assad.