Turkey signals a new military intervention in Syria if Kurdish groups hold local elections

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends the Efes 2024 military exercise in Izmir, Turkey, Thursday, May 30, 2024. (Yavuz Ozden/DIA Photo via AP)

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey won't hesitate to act against Kurdish-led groups in northern Syria that Ankara accuses of links to outlawed Kurdish militants, if they proceed with plans to hold local elections in the region, Turkey’s president said Thursday.

A Kurdish-led autonomous administration that controls northern and eastern parts of Syria has announced plans to hold municipal elections on June 11. The vote to choose mayors will be held in the provinces of Hassakeh, Raqqa, Deir el-Zour and eastern part of Aleppo province.

Turkey, which has launched military operations in Syria in the past, considers the move a step by Syrian Kurdish militants toward the creation of an independent Kurdish entity across its border. It has described the planned polls as a threat to the territorial integrity of both Syria and Turkey.

“We are closely following the aggressive actions by the terrorist organization against the territorial integrity of our country and of Syria under the pretext of an election,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said after observing military exercises in western Turkey.

“Turkey will never allow the separatist organization to establish (a terror state) just beyond its southern borders in the north of Syria and Iraq,” he said.

Turkey considers the Kurdish militia group, known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, as a terrorist group linked to an outlawed Kurdish group that has led an insurgency against Turkey since 1984. That conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, has killed tens of thousands of people.

The YPG, however, makes up the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF — a key U.S. ally in the fight against the Islamic State group. American support for the SDF has infuriated Ankara and remains a major source of contention in their relations.

Turkey has carried a series of military operations in Syria to drive Syrian Kurdish militia groups away from its border since 2016, and controls a swath of territory in the north. Turkish leaders frequently speak of plans to establish a 30-kilometer (19-mile) deep safe zone along its border in Syria and Iraq, where the PKK has a foothold, to protect its borders.

“We did what was needed in the past in the face of a fait accompli. We will not hesitate to act again if we encounter the same situation,” Erdogan said. “Where the territorial integrity of our country is concerned, we don’t listen to anyone and do not bow to any threat."