ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey will not hesitate to carry out further operations like its Euphrates Shield campaign in northern Syria, or retaliate if it faces a threat from the YPG militia, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday.
Erdogan, speaking to a group of business leaders in Istanbul, said he told the United States that Turkey would “exercise its rights under the rules of engagement”, without consulting anyone, if it faced a threat.
“We are facing a picture where terrorist organizations are constantly supported, strengthened and are confronting us. Turkey is not a country that will consent to such treatment,” Erdogan said.
“With the Euphrates Shield operation we have carried out the first step to foil this plot. After this, we will not hesitate to carry out similar operations whenever we see necessary.”
Turkey launched its Euphrates Shield operation inside Syria last year, backing Syrian rebels with tanks, air strikes and special forces to sweep Islamic State from its southern border and stop the advance of the Syrian Kurdish YPG, which Ankara regards as a terrorist organization.
Differences over Syria policy have caused friction with NATO ally Washington. Erdogan’s speech on Thursday was his first public speech since returning from a trip to meet U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington.
Erdogan said he told the United States that Turkey would not shirk from military engagement if it faced a threat, in a clear reference to the YPG. Ankara sees the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, which has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast.
Washington sees the YPG as a distinct entity and a valuable partner in the fight against Islamic State.
“If these terrorist organizations constitute a threat toward our country, we would do what is necessary by exercising our rights under the rules of engagement. We are telling you this now in advance,” he said.
“When we take this step we don’t speak or consult with anyone as we don’t have any time to waste. We would just take the step.”
He said he told the United States that Turkey could not be part of the operation to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa from Islamic State due to the participation of the YPG.
Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Dominic Evans