Erdogan has rejected French mediation between Ankara and the SDF. File photo: Ludovic Marin / AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli warned France on Saturday that boosting its military presence in northern Syria following discussions with Kurdish leaders would constitute an “invasion.”
“If France takes any steps regarding its military presence in northern Syria, this would be an illegitimate step that would go against international law and in fact, it would be an invasion,” Canikli said during a visit to the northeastern province of Giresun, according to AFP.
“Especially if they intend to support terror group elements or give direct or indirect protection with armed forces, this would be a really calamitous step,” he added.
The warning comes as tensions between Turkey and France continue to rise after French President Emmanuel Macron met a delegation of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Thursday.
He has regularly criticized Ankara’s Afrin operation.
The Kurdish delegation claimed after the meeting that Paris intends to increase its military presence in Manbij, where US troops are already stationed alongside its SDF allies.
The French government has denied any such plan. The president’s office insisted on Friday that French operations would remain focused on the fight against ISIS as part of the international coalition.
France does not foresee “any new military operations in the region outside of international coalition’s activities against ISIS,” an unnamed Elysee source told Le Figaro on Friday.
However, France has offered to mediate between Turkey and the SDF – an offer rejected by Turkey.
“We reject any efforts to promote ‘dialogue’, ‘contact’ or ‘mediation’ between Turkey and those terrorist organizations,” Ibrahim Kalin, the spokesperson for the Turkish presidency, tweeted on Friday.
The Turkish president also weighed in during his weekly Friday speech.
“Who are you to talk about mediation between Turkey and a terror group?” said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to state-run Anadolu Agency.
Manbij is west of the Euphrates and controlled by locals including the Kurdish-led Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) whose fighters liberated the city from ISIS with the support of the US-led international coalition in 2016. Manbij civil and military councils have been established.
Erdogan has repeatedly said that after Afrin, Turkey will commence an operation in Manbij.
The SDF is an umbrella group of Arab, Turkmen, Kurdish, and Assyrian fighters, but dominated by the YPG, which the US has described as the most effective partnered anti-ISIS ground fighters in Syria.
Turkey considers YPG and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) to be the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a named terrorist group by Turkey.