ANKARA - Reuters
Turkish military preparations in northwest Syria are legitimate measures against a threat from the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the Afrin region, and Turkey will retaliate against any hostile move, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş told Reuters on July 5.
Kurtulmuş was responding to the head of the YPG militia, who told Reuters that Turkish military deployments near YPG-held areas of northwestern Syria were a declaration of war which could trigger clashes within days.
“This is not a declaration of war. We are making preparations against potential threats,” Kurtulmuş said in the interview.
“It’s a legitimate measure so that we can protect our independence. We cannot remain silent against those sending missiles from Afrin,” he added.
Turkey’s military has said it has returned fire against members of YPG militia near Afrin several times in the last few weeks.
“Their [YPG] primary goal is a threat to Turkey, and if Turkey sees a YPG movement in northern Syria that is a threat to it, it will retaliate in kind,” Kurtulmuş said.
“This isn’t a fantasy for us, it is an indispensable approach to protect Turkey’s border security,” he added.
Turkey says the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the YPG, are linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party
(PKK), and calls on its allies to cease cooperating with the groups it deems terrorists.
The Turkish Defense Ministry said last month the Pentagon had sought to give assurances that Washington would retrieve weapons provided to the YPG after the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are defeated. Turkey says that is not credible.
“There has never been an incident where a group in the Middle East has been armed, and they returned the weapons. The United States have formed more than a terrorist organization there, they formed a small-scale army,” he said.
He also warned the YPG not to try to drive out Arab or Turkmen residents from the town of Tel Rifaat, which is close to Afrin and controlled by the YPG.
“The majority of Tel Rifaat is Arab and Turkmen, and if the PYD says it will capitalize on [its control], then this means ethnic cleansing, and this will not benefit Syria,” he said.