Joint operation may be held in Idlib: Erdoğan

Joint operation may be held in Idlib: Erdoğan

Hande Fırat - SOCHI/ANKARA
Joint operation may be held in Idlib: Erdoğan

Turkey, Russia and Iran may conduct joint military operations against radical jihadist groups in Idlib province if needed, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said, vowing that they will continue to work for the full implementation of an Ankara-Moscow protocol that brought about a partial ceasefire between the Syrian regime and the terror groups in the enclave.

“Joint operations can be held at any time in line with the developments. There is no obstacle in front of these. Current measures are for the comfort, happiness and prosperity of the people in Idlib. What is essential for us is the security of the people of Idlib,” Erdoğan told journalists travelling with him on his return from Sochi where he attended a summit with the Russian and Iranian presidents, Vladimir Putin and Hasan Rouhani, on Feb. 14.

Idlib was among top issues the three leaders discussed. They agreed to take concrete steps against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and other radical groups in Idlib, which did not fully comply with the ceasefire protocol.

Erdoğan did not specify the concrete steps that will be taken, but reiterated a trilateral agreement for joint operations in the enclave. The region is home to tens of thousands of jihadist fighters which control around 90 percent of the province.

He stressed that all three countries were willing to continue the implementation of the protocol, with Turkish and Russian military officials in intense works to this end. Efforts are exerted to stop these groups from terrorizing the Idlib province, Erdoğan said. “Our MİT [National Intelligence Organization] is working intensely. They are trying to prevent [terrorist actions]. Our observation posts in Idlib will also fulfill a critical duty.”

Security zone should be under Turkey’s control

Erdoğan also answered questions on Turkey’s demand to set up a security zone along the Syrian border upon a proposal by U.S. President Donald Trump.

The security zone should be under Turkey’s control so that its borders can be secure against the presence of the YPG, Erdoğan said, vowing that Ankara will never allow efforts to turn this security zone into a protection shield for the YPG.

“We are very determined on this. This should be well-known. This is also required for the safety of Syrian Kurds,” Erdoğan said, expressing his disappointment over the continued reference to guarantee the well-being of Kurds by international actors.

“Who has been protecting the rights of the Kurds until now? The YPG/PYD? Where have they been? How long will they exist?” Erdoğan said, recalling that it was him who asked the Syrian government to issue identity cards for Syrian Kurds in the past.

Although Russians are not against Turkey’s plans to set up a security zone through an existing agreement between Ankara and Damascus, dubbed the Adana Protocol, they are trying to limit the depth of this corridor, Erdoğan said.

“Our relevant institutions are now working on this protocol. We will exert efforts to use it as a tool in our fight against terror. We have taken all our measures and we are ready for anything,” he stressed.

Erdoğan slams US over Manbij

On a question over a U.S. plan to deploy an observation force made by coalition countries into this zone, Erdoğan said Turkey does not approve such a plan. “The east of Euphrates should be cleared of terror organizations,” he said.

Erdoğan also complained about the pace of the implementation of a road map for the withdrawal of the YPG from Manbij city of Syria. “It’s also very important. There is a delay. They have said 90 days [for the withdrawal] but it has been nearly a year. They still say they will implement it,” he stressed.

No step back from S-400s

Erdoğan also answered questions on Turkey’s deal with Russia for the purchase of the $2.5 billion S-400 anti-ballistic missile systems despite the opposition of its NATO ally, the U.S.

“We have made the S-400 deal with Russia. Therefore, a step back is out of question. This is over,” Erdoğan stressed. “We are working for the deployment of S-400s in July as promised.”

But Turkey remains open to buy the U.S.-made Patriot system, but on condition that it serves Turkey’s interest. “Joint production, providing a loan and early delivery are criteria that we attach importance to. Although they are positive for early delivery, they can’t promise providing credit and joint production,” he said.

The Turkish president’s statements follow a series of technical talks between Ankara and Washington over the latter’s sale of the $3.5 billion Patriot air defense systems. The U.S. has long been urging Turkey to cancel the S-400 deal with Russia as its deployment could endanger the flight safety of F-35 aircrafts.

Turkey says it will use the S-400s as stand-alone air defense systems and will develop its own software so that it does not have a negative impact on the NATO military equipment in Turkey.