Turkish forces preparing to cross the Syria-Turkey border earlier this month. File photo: Omar Haj Kadour/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Turkey’s military operation in Syria’s Idlib province is near conclusion, but the country’s president hinted that Turkish forces had more plans in the neighbouring country.
“The operation in Idlib was largely completed,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at a meeting of his AK party on Tuesday, state-run Anadolu Agency reported. “The Afrin issue is ahead of us.”
Turkey launched its offensive into Idlib earlier this month with two goals. The first was to lay the groundwork to establish a safe zone in the province, as had been agreed upon by Turkey, Russia, and Iran during the Astana process.
Much of Idlib is under the control of an al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, formerly known as the Nusra Front. Syrian rebels working with the Turkish forces had said the goal was to finish Tahrir al-Sham. However, Turkish troops coordinated with the group as they established a reported more than 10 observation posts, predominantly along Idlib’s border with Afrin.
Hemming in the Kurdish canton of Afrin was the other goal of the operation as part of Erdogan’s determination to not allow a “terror corridor” along the border. Turkey wanted to prevent the Kurds from accessing the Mediterranean.
Afrin is under control of the Kurdish YPG forces and its political wing the PYD. Ankara considers both to be extensions of the PKK, a named terrorist organization.
Damascus has condemned the presence of Turkish troops on its soil as “blatant aggression” and demanded they leave.