Erdogan says Turkey to attack Kurdish militants with tanks, soldiers

  • The Russian envoy is said to have called Turkey to show restraint
  • Teacher, child killed when mortar bomb hits Turkey on Monday
  • Erdogan said the operation could involve ground forces

ANKARA, Nov 22 (Reuters) – Turkey will attack militants with tanks and soldiers soon, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday, signaling the possibility of a ground attack against Kurdish militia in Syria after retaliatory attacks escalated along the Syrian border.

His comments came as Turkish artillery continued to shell Kurdish bases and other targets near the Syrian towns of Tal Rifaat and Kobani, two Syrian military sources told Reuters.

“We have been bearing down on terrorists for several days with our planes, artillery and weapons,” Erdogan said in a speech in northeastern Turkey. “God willing, we will exterminate them all as soon as possible, along with our tanks, our soldiers.”

He said earlier that the operation would not be limited to an air campaign and could involve ground forces. Turkey has carried out several major military operations against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia and Islamic State militants in northern Syria in recent years.

On Monday, Turkey said the YPG killed two people in a mortar attack from northern Syria, following a Turkish air operation against militias at the weekend and a deadly bomb attack in Istanbul a week earlier.

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The YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said 15 civilians and fighters were killed in Turkish attacks in recent days.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar vowed to keep up the operation against the militants, renewing the call for Washington’s NATO ally to stop supporting the Syrian Kurdish forces that Ankara calls the wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) outlawed.

“We tell all our partners, especially the United States, at every level, that the YPG is the same as the PKK and we stand by our demand that they stop any kind of support for terrorists,” Akar told the parliamentary commission in a speech.

A child and a teacher were killed and six others injured on Monday when a mortar shell hit a border area in Turkey’s Gaziantep province. Its armed forces retaliated with jets again hitting targets in Syria, a senior security official said.

‘SERIOUS ATTENTION’

A spokesperson for the US State Department said that Washington has raised serious concerns with Ankara about the impact of the escalation on the objective of fighting the Islamic State.

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“We urge Turkey against such operations, just as we urge our Syrian partners against any attack or escalation,” the spokesman said in an emailed response to questions.

A spokesman for the US National Security Agency told Reuters that the US government rejects military action that destabilizes the situation in Syria.

The United States has allied with the YPG-led SDF in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, causing a deep rift with Turkey.

Moscow, which is allied with Damascus, also called on Turkey to show restraint in using “excessive” military force in Syria and keep tensions from escalating, Russian news agencies quoted Russia’s envoy to Syria as saying.

On an official visit to Turkey on Tuesday, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told Berlin reporters to stand firmly by Ankara’s side in the fight against terrorism, but warned that the reaction should be reasonable.

“We stand by Turkey in the investigation of this terrorist attack and in the fight against terrorism. (…) but we also think that the reaction should be reasonable and in accordance with the people’s rights and not harm civilians.”

Turkey said its warplanes destroyed 89 targets in Syria and Iraq on Sunday, and 184 militants were killed in operations targeting the YPG and PKK on Sunday and Monday.

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Ankara said its weekend operation was in retaliation for a bomb attack in Istanbul last week that killed six people, with authorities blaming militants. No one has claimed responsibility and the PKK and SDF deny involvement.

The bombing evoked memories of violence before a tense 2015 election, and could fuel a security-focused campaign for Erdogan, ahead of a tight election next June.

An SDF spokesman said Turkish attacks over the weekend killed 11 civilians, one SDF fighter and two guards.

More than 40,000 people were killed in the fighting between the PKK and the Turkish state that began in 1984. Turkey, the United States and the European Union designated the PKK as a terrorist group.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Amman, Humeyra Pamuk in Washington, Lidia Kelly in Melbourne, Ece Toksabay in Ankara, Steve Holland in Washington and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Written by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, Clarence Fernandez, Jonathan Oatis and Lincoln Feast.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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