Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has signaled a possible ground offensive in northern Syria and Iraq after Ankara’s forces launched cross-border air strikes on places used by Kurdish groups, who blame them for a bomb attack in central Istanbul.
The escalating tensions have caused concern worldwide. Russia and the United States urged Ankara to exercise restraint on Monday.
Speaking to reporters on a flight home from Qatar following the opening of the World Cup, Erdogan said that Turkey’s ongoing military campaign in northern Syria and northern Iraq “is not just limited to air operation.”
“The appropriate authorities, our Department of Defense and the Chief of Staff will decide together what force should be used by our ground forces,” he said.
“We will make sure that those who disturb us in our area pay.”
The Turkish operation, dubbed Claw Sword, was launched on Sunday, a week after a bomb explosion on Istanbul’s Istiklal Avenue killed six people and injured 81.
Ankara blamed the banned Kurdistan Workers Group (PKK) and affiliated Syrian-Kurdish groups for the attack on November 13, although the Kurdish fighters have denied any involvement.
The Turkish Ministry of Defense said Claw Sword — which included land weapons — killed 184 fighters and destroyed 89 targets, including shelters, bunkers, caves, and tunnels.
The state news agency Anadolu, meanwhile, reported rocket fire from Syrian territory. Two people were reportedly killed on Monday when projectiles hit the Turkish border district of Karkamis.
The US, which relied primarily on Kurdish militias to defeat the ISIL Group (ISIS) in Syria, called for de-escalation.
“The United States expresses its sincere condolences for the loss of civilian life in Syria and Turkey,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.
“We are pushing for de-escalation in Syria to protect civilian lives and support the common goal of defeating IS. We continue to oppose any uncoordinated military action in Iraq that violates Iraq’s sovereignty,” he said.
Russia also called on Turkey to refrain from using “excessive” military force.
Alexander Lavrentyev, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy for Syria, told reporters that Turkey had not informed Moscow in advance of its attacks on its neighbors.
In his speech in the Kazakh capital, where a tripartite meeting between Russia, Turkey and Iran on Syria is taking place, Lavrentyev said he hopes to “convince our Turkish colleagues not to use excessive use of force on Syrian territory.”
“For months, Russia has done… everything possible to prevent a large-scale ground operation,” he added.
Erdogan has been threatening a new large-scale military operation against PKK-affiliated forces in northern Syria for months, but Russia, Iran and many Western countries have warned of the plans.
Turkey has previously carried out military ground operations in Syria, focused on areas just across the border, and captured large parts of the territory.
The Turkish government believes that a so-called “security zone” along the Syrian side of the border is needed to allow the voluntary return of the Syrian refugees it receives and to prevent groups that Ankara regards as members of the PKK, such as the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), from attacking Turkey.