Turkey said Tuesday it was ready for an offensive against Kurdish militants in northern Syria despite mixed signals from US President Donald Trump over whether he had approved the operation.
The United States pulled back 50 to 100 “special operators” from Syria’s northern frontier on Monday, where they had served as a buffer preventing a long-planned assault by the Turkish military against Kurdish forces.
Trump’s surprise move drew heavy criticism from top Republicans that he was abandoning the Kurds, who were crucial in the years-long campaign to defeat Islamic State.
But he later appeared to backpedal, warning Turkey that he would “obliterate” the country’s economy if it went too far — without explaining what that meant.
“I have told Turkey that if they do anything outside of what we would think is humane… they could suffer the wrath of an extremely decimated economy,” he said.
Ankara brushed aside the threat on Tuesday, with Vice-President Fuat Oktay saying: “Turkey is not a country that will act according to threats.”
Turkey has always pushed hard against Washington’s support for Kurdish forces in Syria due to their links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has fought a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
Its defence ministry tweeted that preparations for an offensive in northern Syria have been “completed”.
The Syrian government said it was an opportunity to welcome the country’s Kurds back into its fold.
The Kurds have been “tossed aside” by Washington, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told the pro-government Al-Watan newspaper.
“We will defend all Syrian territory, and we will not accept any occupation of Syrian land,” he added.
Even Trump’s allies accused him of turning his back on the Kurds, who lead the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and say they lost some 11,000 fighters as the main frontline force against the Islamic State group.