Turkish troops have killed 10 Kurdish militants in a cross-border escalation ongoing since the weekend, according to the Turkish Defense Ministry.
Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Monday that his country’s troops targeted several Kurdish positions in northern Syria, killing 10 militants in a major cross-border escalation.
Akar said Turkey’s armed forces were responding to shelling and rocket attacks by Syrian Kurdish groups that wounded four Turkish soldiers over the weekend. Turkish soldiers were taken to Turkey for treatment. “All known terrorist targets have been under fire. We have four wounded,” he said.
Britain-based war monitor The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said over the weekend that the two Turkish soldiers were critically wounded as result of shelling that was launched from northern Syrian regions that are controlled by the US-allied Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as well as groups loyal to the Syrian government.
Ankara has blamed the attack on the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the backbone of the SDF. Ankara considers the Syrian Kurdish groups terrorist organizations, equating them to an outlawed armed outfit fighting the Turkish government for some four decades for self-rule inside Turkey.
The cross-border escalation came after a Turkish drone strike in northern Iraq last week that hit near a convoy carrying SDF commander Mazloum Kobane and another senior Syrian Kurdish official as well as US military officials. Turkey has been targeting Kurdish militants’ positions and leaders through drone attacks in Syria and northern Iraq regularly.
The Turkish armed forces also conducted three large-scale military operations against Syrian Kurdish groups and has been controlling a large swath of areas in northern Syria with its Sunni rebel proxies fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The UK-based war monitor also reported clashes between the Turkish-backed Sunni armed groups and Syrian government forces near Aleppo. The escalation coincided with the Russian-brokered high-level talks between Ankara and Damascus aiming to reconcile the two capitals. Russia and Iran have been the main international backers of Damascus in the 12-year-old civil war.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last week that he can meet with his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad in Moscow early May in a four-way format that will also be attended by the top Russian and Iranian top diplomats. The four countries’ deputy foreign ministers gathered in early April in preparation for the foreign ministers’ meeting.
Damascus has been pressing for a concrete commitment for the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Syria to advance the high-level talks that started December. Speaking last week, Cavusoglu said such a move could only be achieved with a road map negotiated in high-level talks.
Ankara, in turn, seeks Damascus’ cooperation in its fight against the Syrian Kurdish groups and on some 4 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey. Both issues remain highly inflammatory for the country’s public with less than a month to go before the critical parliamentary and presidential elections on May 14.