Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday threatened to launch a ground offensive against Kurdish groups in northern Syria “as soon as possible.”
Erdogan’s warning came after Turkey launched major airstrikes in northern Syria and Iraq, targeting Kurdish militant groups. The strikes came in response to a bombing in Istanbul that Turkey blamed on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its affiliates.
“We have been bearing down on terrorists for a few days with our planes, cannons and guns,” Erdogan said. “God willing, we will root out all of them as soon as possible, together with our tanks, our soldiers.”
When the Turkish strikes were first launched, dozens were reported killed, including members of the US-backed Kurdish-led SDF. Turkey’s Defense Ministry claimed that the operation in Syria and Iraq killed 184 Kurdish “terrorists,” but the number isn’t confirmed.
On Monday, rockets reportedly fired by the SDF hit a Turkish district near the Syrian border, killing three people, and more Turkish airstrikes and artillery strikes hit Syria. Turkish officials have blamed the US and other countries for the flare-up over their support for Kurdish groups in northeast Syria.
The State Department released a short statement on Monday calling for de-escalation. “We urge de-escalation in Syria to protect civilian life and support the common goal of defeating ISIS. We continue to oppose any uncoordinated military action in Iraq that violates Iraq’s sovereignty,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.
Russia is also calling for de-escalation but says it understands Turkey’s security concerns. “We understand and respect Turkey’s concerns about ensuring its own security. We believe this is Turkey’s legitimate right. At the same time, we call on all parties to refrain from steps that could lead to the destabilization of the overall situation,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.