Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated his pledge to launch a military offensive in northern Syria, saying on Monday that his military aims to create a safe zone in the area so that the 4 million or so Syrian refugees sheltering in Turkey can return home.
Turkey wants a 32-kilometer (20-mile) zone along its southern border with Syria to push back the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Syrian Kurdish militia with links to insurgents Turkey has battled for more than three decades, after the United States withdraws its forces from Syria. The YPG has fought alongside the United States against the Islamic State since 2014 and its political arm administers much of northeast Syria.
US President Donald Trump unexpectedly declared in December he would pull out the 2,200 American special forces fighting with the YPG in Syria, leaving what’s left of the battle against IS to Turkey. More than a month on, the details of Trump’s withdrawal plan remain unclear.
The surprise announcement roiled his own cabinet, prompting his defense secretary and other key figures to resign over the risk it exposed Kurds to. Relations with NATO partner Turkey have been severely strained for years over the US military’s arming of Syrian Kurds and a brief respite in the acrimony following Trump’s announcement may prove short-lived.
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