Turkish Precedent Recep Tayyip Erdogan reacted Monday in anger to a proposed U.S.-trained force that could see Kurdish militiamen stationed on the Syrian side of its southern border and threatened to “drown” the initiative before it was born.
The U.S.-led coalition confirmed Sunday that it was training recruits for a planned 30,000-strong force that will maintain security along Syria’s borders with Turkey and Iraq, as well as along the Euphrates River valley.
But its manpower will be drawn from the Kurdish-dominated Social Democratic Forces, Washington’s favored proxy in the fight against ISIS and a major source of contention with Ankara, which views Syria’s Kurdish militants as an extension of a Kurdish group in Turkey that has battled the central government for decades.
Speaking Monday at the opening of an Ankara soda factory, Erdogan said it was his government’s “duty is to drown this terrorist force before it is born.”
“We would never accept destroying the terrorist organization Daesh with another terrorist organization. If we are strategic partners then you must carry this out with us,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS in comments carried by the state-run Anadolu Agency.
Syria’s Kurdish militants have emerged as one of the main winners of Syria’s six year war, and they are working to entrench their autonomy over swaths of northern Syria.
As a result, Turkey has shifted its focus in Syria from supporting rebel groups to seeking the overthrow President Bashar al-Assad to preventing Kurdish militants from controlling more territory along its border.
Turkey has indicated in recent days that it is considering a military offensive in the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northwest Syria. Erdogan said Monday that Turkish army units had fired dozens of shells toward Kurdish positions in and around Afrin the previous day.
“We are already shooting with howitzers, and we will continue to shoot. Are we going to retreat into our shell and wait for you to hit us?” he said.