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Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said on Wednesday that the Turkish military preparations in northwest Syria are legitimate measures against a threat from Kurdish forces in the Afrin region.
He added that Turkey will retaliate against any hostile move.
Kurtulmusv was responding to the head of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), who told Reuters that Turkish military deployments near Kurdish-held areas of northwestern Syria were a declaration of war which could trigger clashes within days.
The YPG forms a major part of the U.S.-backed campaign to capture Islamic State’s stronghold of Raqqa. It also controls a pocket of territory in Afrin, about 200 km (125 miles) west of Raqqa. Tensions between Turkish forces and the YPG have been mounting in the Afrin region in recent weeks.
“This is not a declaration of war. We are making preparations against potential threats,” Kurtulmus said in an interview with Reuters. “It’s … a legitimate measure so that we can protect our independence. We cannot remain silent against those sending missiles from Afrin.”
Turkey’s military, which launched an incursion last August into part of northern Syria which lies between Afrin and a larger Kurdish-controlled area further east, has said that it has returned fire against members of YPG near Afrin several times in the last few weeks.
“Their (YPG) primary goal is a threat to Turkey, and if Turkey sees a YPG movement in northern Syria that is a threat to it, it will retaliate in kind,” Kurtulmus said.
“This isn’t a fantasy for us…it is an indispensable approach to protect Turkey’s border security.”
Ankara considers the YPG an extension of the outlawed Kurdish PKK group which has waged an insurgency in southeast Turkey since the 1980s. Turkey was angered by a U.S. decision to arm the YPG as it marched with its allies on Raqqa.
The Turkish defense ministry said last month the Pentagon had sought to give assurances that Washington would retrieve weapons provided to the YPG after Islamic State fighters were defeated. Turkey says that is not credible.
“There has never been an incident where a group in the Middle East has been armed, and they returned the weapons,” Kurtulmus said. The United States “have formed more than a terrorist organization there, they formed a small-scale army.”
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