Turkey has reportedly dispatched a convoy of over 40 military vehicles and tanks to the southern regions along the Syrian frontier amid growing Ankara-Washington tensions over a US plan to create a “border force” at Turkey’s doorstep.
Military sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency on Monday that two dozen armored vehicles had entered the Reyhanli district of Turkey’s Hatay Province with military jammer vehicles “for reinforcement reasons.”
Another 20-vehicle military convoy, including tanks, had also arrived in the Viransehir district of Turkey’s Sanliurfa Province to provide assistance to the military units already deployed to the Syrian border, the sources added.
The US infuriated its NATO partner Turkey on Sunday by announcing that Washington and a coalition of its allies purportedly fighting Daesh will work with US-backed militants of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to set up a new 30,000-strong “border security” force.
The force would operate along the Turkish border with Iraq and within Syria along the Euphrates River.
Washington also said it is supplying weapons and training to anti-Damascus militants of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the SDF’s main backbone. Turkey views the YPG as a terrorist group and the Syrian arm of the homegrown Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting for independence over the past decades.
The US had promised to take back the weapons from Kurdish militants once Daesh falls.
Reacting to the US military’s announcement, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Washington is “building an army of terror” on the border with Syria,” and that “it is our responsibility to suffocate this effort before it is born.”
He also threatened an attack on Afrin “in the days ahead” to clear the northwestern Syrian town of “terrorists.” The city is controlled by Kurdish militants.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu echoed Erdogan’s remarks, urging the US to clarify its stance.
“The US must clarify which side it is on, whether it chooses to be with its allies or terror groups,” he said, warning, “We will take our own measures [against terror groups] regardless of who backs them; whether it is the US or other countries, it doesn’t matter to us.”
In August 2016, Turkey began a unilateral military intervention in northern Syria, code-named Operation Euphrates Shield. Ankara said the campaign was aimed at pushing Daesh terrorists from Turkey’s border with Syria and stopping the advance of Kurdish forces.
Turkey ended its Syria offensive in March 2017, but has kept its military presence there.
Syria has voiced strong opposition to both Turkish and American military actions on its soil, repeatedly calling on the two NATO allies to pull their forces out.
Washington’s border force plan drew angry reactions from both Syria and Russia, with Damascus describing it as a “blatant assault” on its sovereignty.
Russia also said the US was seeking to split the Syrian territory.
“In fact, that means separation of a huge territory along the border with Turkey and Iraq,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. “The actions we currently see indicate that the United States does not want to keep the territorial integrity of Syria.”
‘US after dividing Syria’
Meanwhile, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad on Monday denounced the US bid to form “an armed militia” as a desperate attempt to divide the country and prolong the crisis there.
He told Lebanon’s Al Mayadeen television channel that the efforts by Washington and its agents in the Persian Gulf region as well as Turkey to undermine Syria’s unity and sovereignty were in vain amid sweeping gains by the Syrian army and its allies against terrorists on the battlefield.
Mekdad also expressed confidence in the Syrian people’s ability to foil the new conspiracy, adding that the presence of foreign forces on Syrian soil without coordination with the Damascus government is illegitimate.