US troops walk past a Turkish military vehicle on the outskirts of Tal Abyad town along the Syrian-Turkish border on 8 September (AFP)
Preparations for a major military operation in northeast Syria are complete, Turkey announced on Tuesday after the United States called back troops clearing the way for a Turkish attack on Kurdish-led forces.
But US President Donald Trump warned he would “obliterate” the NATO allies economy if it took action in Syria that he considered “off limits” following his decision on Sunday to pull 50 American special forces troops from the border region.
All preparations for the operation have been completed”
President Erdogan has said Turkey plans to resettle two million refugees in northern Syria and Turkish media has said the draft resettlement plan involves a 151 billion lira ($26bn) construction project. Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees.
Turkey’s armed forces “will never tolerate the establishment of a terror corridor on our borders. All preparations for the operation have been completed”, the defence ministry said on Twitter early on Tuesday.
“It is essential to establish a safe zone/peace corridor to contribute to our region’s peace and stability, and for Syrians to achieve a safe life,” it said.
Turkey’s vice president said his country will not bow to threats over its Syria plans.
“Where Turkey’s security is concerned, we determine our own path but we set our own limits,” Fuat Oktay said in apparent response to Trump’s comments.
SDF ready to take on Turkish forces.
The US withdrawal will leave its Kurdish-led partner – the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – vulnerable to military action by Turkey, which brands them “terrorists” because of their links to Kurdish fighters who have waged a decades-long resistance inside Turkey. Gabriel Kino, an SDF spokesman, said the militia was ready to take on Turkish forces.
“Threats made by Turkey to attack the area is not something new, they have constantly done it for years. We as Syrian Democratic Forces take the matter into account and are fully prepared to fiercely respond to any imminent attack on Syrian soil,” Kino told Al Jazeera.
Iran’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, in a phone call that Tehran is opposed to Turkey’s operation in Syria.
The Iranian foreign minister also “stressed the need for the fight against terrorism and for the establishment of stability and security in Syria”.
Zarif told Cavusoglu the Adana agreement was “the best approach for Syria and Turkey and for addressing their concerns”.
Ankara and Damascus signed the agreement in 1998 to ease tensions after Turkey threatened Syria with military action if it did not expel Turkish-Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan from its soil.
Will ISIS return?
The feared Turkish military operation on northeast Syria could prompt an ISIL resurgence, analysts and Kurdish forces warned, despite Ankara’s pledge to prevent the fighters’ return.
The SDF is now concerned the armed group could replenish its ranks by freeing thousands of fighters and their families currently held in detention centres and informal settlements in Syria’s northeast. The Kurds consistently warned they would be unable to guard ISIL fighters if their forces were busy fighting off a Turkish offensive.The US worked closely with the YPG to recapture swathes of territory from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS).
I’ll obliterate Turk economy, says Donald Trump
The US President said he would “totally destroy and obliterate” Turkey’s economy if it took action in Syria that he considered “off limits” following his decision on Sunday night (Monday AEDT) to pull out US forces from northeastern Syria.
Mr Trump’s stern words seemed to be aimed at placating critics who accused him of abandoning the Syrian Kurds by pulling out US forces. “As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!)” he tweeted.
The US began pulling troops back from the northeast Syrian border late on Monday, effectively giving Turkey a green light to move into the area.
The US expected Turkey to take responsibility for captive ISIS fighters in northeastern Syria if Ankara’s planned incursion seizes areas where the detained militants are held, a senior State Department official said. The captives are held in Syrian Democratic Forces facilities south of a safe zone initially proposed by Turkey.