ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey expects its allies to help set up a “safe zone” in Syria along the Turkish border within a few months, otherwise it will establish the zone alone, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday.
U.S. President Donald Trump decided in December to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria and Erdogan subsequently said they had discussed Turkey setting up a 20-mile-deep safe zone in Syria along the border.
Trump’s decision came as Turkey made preparations for an offensive against the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG militia east of the Euphrates river in northeast Syria, having seized control of regions west of the river in previous operations.
Turkey has long been enraged by U.S. support for the YPG, which Ankara regards as a terrorist group, and Erdogan said the safe zone should be “aimed at protecting our country from terrorists, not protecting terrorists right beside our border”.
“Otherwise, we will definitely form this safe or buffer zone ourselves. Our only expectation from our allies is that they provide logistical support to Turkey’s effort,” he told his AK Party supporters in a speech in the eastern city of Erzurum.
The YPG has been a key ally of the United States in the fight against Islamic State, and Trump has previously warned Ankara not to attack them in Syria, appearing to threaten Turkey’s economy if it did.
Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from the Kurdish-led region, which confounded his own national security team, has also led to a revival in attempts at dialogue between the YPG and the Syrian government.
The YPG’s commander has told Reuters he believes talks with Damascus over the future of the region it controls in northeast Syria will begin in days after a “positive” reaction from Damascus.
Erdogan said that neither the United Nations nor the international coalition formed to protect the Syrian people were capable of creating a safe zone or maintaining security in the region.
“The only power that can in a true sense establish the safety and functioning of this region on our Syrian border is Turkey,” he said. “We are closed to all proposed solutions besides this.”
He said Turkey had the right to enter Syrian territory when it faces threats under a 1998 agreement, which Ankara reached with Damascus after pressuring Syria to expel Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan, now jailed in Turkey.
Ankara regards the YPG as an extension of Ocalan’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a decades-old insurgency in southeast Turkey in which more than 40,000 people have been killed.
U.S. special Syria envoy James Jeffrey, visiting Ankara for talks with Turkish officials, held talks with Defence Minister Hulusi Akar and Turkish armed forces chief General Yasar Guler on Friday, the defence ministry said.
During the talks, Akar said Turkey expected the United States to end its support for the YPG and complete the road map which the two countries agreed upon for the Syrian town of Manbij to the west of the Euphrates, the statement said.
Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Daren Butler and Toby Chopra