Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan says Ankara and Washington do not see eye to eye regarding a planned “safe zone” in northern Syria, where an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militants opposed by Turkey enjoy the United States’ support in their alleged fight against terrorism.
Speaking hours after joint US-Turkey patrols began in Syria’s north on Sunday, the Turkish president strongly criticized the US for protecting a “terrorist group” operating in the region.
“We are negotiating with the US for the safe zone, but we see at every step that what we want and what they have in mind is not the same thing,” Erdogan said. “It seems that our ally is looking for a safe zone for the terrorist organization, not for us. We reject such understanding.”
Earlier, media reports said six Turkish armored vehicles had crossed into Syria to join US troops. Two helicopters overflew the area as the Turkish vehicles drove through an opening in the concrete wall erected between the countries.
“If we don’t actually begin establishing a safe zone in the east of Euphrates with our own soldiers by the end of September, we will have no other option left but to follow our path. This is not something to be done with three or five helicopter flights, five or ten rounds of ground patrols, and ostensible presence of a few hundreds of soldiers in the region,” the Turkish president said.
Last month, the US and Turkey agreed to set up the buffer zone to the east of the Euphrates River between the Turkish border and Syrian areas controlled by US-backed Kurdish militias, which Ankara views as terrorists affiliated with the homegrown Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group.
Washington’s support for the Kurdish militants in Syria has long been a source of tension between the two NATO allies. Turkey has launched two military operations in Syria against those militants and threatened a third if Washington fails to keep them away from the Turkish border.
The Syrian government — which has authorized neither the Turkish nor the US military activities on its soil — has slammed the US-Turkish agreement, labeling it as a violation of Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as international law.
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