Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned on Tuesday that his country had no choice but to act alone in northern Syria after a deadline to jointly establish a "safe zone" with the United States in the area by the end of September passed.
“We have not achieved any of the results we desired in the east of the Euphrates. Turkey cannot lose even a single day on this issue. There is no other choice but to act on our own,” Erdogan said at the parliament’s opening ceremony in Ankara.
“We plan to settle two million people in the safe zones we will establish. We calculated the costs and we will carry out efforts to improve. We will start taking steps as soon as the region is saved from the invasion of terror,” he said.
Erdogan told the United Nations last week he wanted to set up the zone along 480 km of border and reaching 30 km inside Syria. Under the Turkish plan, up to 2 million Syrian refugees would be settled in the safe zone, with international support.
If implemented, the project could halve the number of Syrian refugees sheltering in Turkey from Syria's eight-year conflict, and drive the Syrian Kurdish YPG - which Ankara says is a terrorist group threatening its security - from the border, Reuters said.
While diplomats, analysts and Turkey’s main opposition say Ankara would be unwilling to anger Washington with a military incursion as the allies try to repair strained ties, Erdogan’s comments on Tuesday marked the clearest indication of an offensive in the region.
He added that Turkey aimed to host an “international donors meeting” to get funding for its plans in the area, which he said would stretch from the Euphrates river in Syria east to the Iraqi border.
Erdogan has repeatedly called on Turkey’s allies to provide financial support for the plans, including in his speech at the United Nations last month. But Ankara is unlikely to receive a response for any plan that settles people hundreds of kilometers from their homes and alters the demographics of northeast Syria.
The United States agreed to the safe zone as a way to protect its Kurdish allies in Syria and address Turkish concerns about the border, after President Donald Trump announced plans last year to abruptly withdraw 2,000 US special forces troops that helped Kurdish fighters battle ISIS.
But the US troops have yet to leave and Washington and Ankara have so far failed to agree on details. Turkey has accused the United States of dragging its feet and warned that it would take matters into its own hands.
Turkey has already launched two military incursions into northern Syria in the last three years and has stationed troops into the opposition-held Idlib region. It says preparations for another operation are complete.