After weeks of threats, Turkey looks to finally make good on Erdogan's repeat promises to unilaterally invade northern Syria, as a deal to conduct joint "land and air patrols" with the US is collapsing just as it barely got off the ground.
Turkey's military is on high alert, ready to carry out the Turkish president's orders on short notice, after a longtime military build-up along the border. "We will carry out this operation both on land and air as soon as today or tomorrow," Erdogan said on Saturday. “We gave all warnings to our interlocutors regarding the east of Euphrates and we have acted with sufficient patience,” the president added.
He further slammed the prospect of cooperating with the US on a US-Turkey administered safe zone "a fairytale" given Washington's recalcitrance regarding Syria's Kurds, the ethnic group's militias of which Turkey considers "terrorists".
The Kurdish dominated and US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has vowed it will treat any invading Turkish soldiers as an act of war. In a statement the SDF said it would “not hesitate to turn any unprovoked (Turkish) attack into an all-out war” to defend its region in northeast Syria, according to Reuters.
Erdogan named Sunday as a likely day to launch the operation in a rare moment of specificity (he indicated "as soon as today or tomorrow"), though he's on up to a dozen or more occasions generally threatened such action. Bloomberg reports major troop reinforcements observed at the border with northeast Syria:
Turkey reinforced army units at the Syrian border hours after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signaled an imminent cross-border operation against U.S.-backed Kurdish militants in Syria.
Turkey sent additional armored vehicles and troops to the border town of Akcakale late Saturday, across from Tal Abyad in Syria, according to state TV television TRT.
Assuming the moment finally does arrive on Sunday, the next big question is the American response: withdraw troops or dig in to protect its on the ground Kurdish SDF/YPG partners?
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper during a Saturday press briefing was asked point blank precisely this question. Esper's response was notably ambiguous and evasive when compared to Erdogan's saying it's "a fairy tale".
"Right now, we're focused on making the security mechanism functional in northern — northeast Syria," Esper began. "I'm sorry. I had a long conversation with my counterpart Mr. Akar yesterday, and this was the specific focus of our discussion, and I made very clear to him and he agreed as well that we need to make the security mechanism work," he continued, clinging to the prior agreement with Ankara.
"You know, we have the joint center up and working in southern Turkey, we have air patrols going on, we had another ground patrol just happen. We've got to work through all the details," he added.
"And so I just told him, let's keep working at it that's the best path forward for all of us, so that's what I'm focused on right now," Esper finished — ultimately not saying much that's different from prior such statements, despite Turkish impatience and bellicose threats to go it alone.