Turkish and Iraqi forces conducting military drills near the Kurdistan Region border last week. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Turkey is planning to spend up to $5 billion on new weapons for its armed forces while threatening military action against Kurds in northern Syria and sabre rattling around the Kurdistan Region.
“We will transfer nearly 17 – 18 billion liras to the defense industry to buy new weapon systems in 2018,” Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek said in an interview with Turkey’s NTV broadcast on Thursday, saying that the move was necessary in the face of regional risks.
“Some additional weapon systems are on the agenda to buy in an effort to overcome the risks around,” he explained, adding that the boost in military expenditures will be funded by new tax measures.
Turkey has been building up its forces around the Kurdish canton of Afrin in northwestern Syria over the summer.
In an interview with state-run TRT, Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin was asked if Turkey would carry out a military intervention in Afrin. “Turkey will continue to take these kinds of steps, as it did in the past, because it prioritizes its own national interests. Turkey will not hesitate to act for its own security when and where it is deemed necessary,” he answered.
In September, Russian Military Police were deployed to the Afrin area to deconflict between Kurdish forces and Turkish-backed forces after Turkey and its allied Free Syrian Army (FSA) elements stepped up activities against Kurdish and local forces over the summer.
In the Kurdistan Region and Iraq, Ankara has taken a firm stance against Kurdistan’s recent independence referendum, carrying out joint military drills with Iraqi forces in sight of Kurdistan’s borders and threatening to close borders and impose sanctions, including shutting down exports of Kurdistan’s oil through the pipeline to Turkey’s Ceyhan port.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking on Thursday, characterized the referendum as part of a wider plot against Turkey.
“This encircling is not just limited to our physical borders,” he said. “I am talking about a bigger plot including our territory. We will spoil that plot as we have spoiled others, with God’s will and my nation’s strength.”
He accused “global colonialist groups” of carrying out a “divide and conquer” strategy in Iraq and Syria, seeking to break up Turkey’s southern neighbours along ethnic and sectarian lines.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) must be given a “time limit” to reconsider the “mistake” of the referendum and cancel the results that saw 92.7 percent support for independence from Iraq.
“If necessary steps are taken within that time, then ok, but if not, then the demands and steps [made by] the Iraqi administration will be important criteria for us,” he told reporters in Paris, according to state-run Anadolu Agency.