ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey is sending reinforcements to its border with Syria, Demiroren News Agency (DHA) reported on Sunday, adding that some 100 vehicles including mounted pickup trucks and weaponry had made their way to the area.
The heightened military activity comes days after President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would postpone a planned military operation on Kurdish YPG militia east of the Euphrates river in northern Syria following the United States’ decision to withdraw from Syria.
DHA said the Turkish convoy, headed toward the border district of Kilis in the southern province of Hatay, included tanks, howitzers, machine guns and buses carrying commandos.
Part of the military equipment and personnel are to be positioned in posts along the border while some had crossed into Syria via the district of Elbeyli, DHA said.
Elbeyli is situated 45 kilometres (27.96 miles) northwest of the northern Syrian town of Manbij, which has been a major flashpoint between Ankara and Washington.
In June, the NATO allies reached an agreement that would see the YPG ousted from Manbij but Turkey has complained the roadmap has been delayed.
Footage from broadcaster TRT World showed parts of the convoy entering Syria via the Turkish border town of Karkamis in the southeastern province of Gaziantep, 35 kilometres north of Manbij.
The convoys are crossing into area controlled by the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a Turkish ally, and are heading to the frontlines of Manbij, TRT World said.
Reuters could not independently verify the reason for the reinforcements and Turkish officials were not immediately available for comment.
Turkey, with support from the FSA, carried out two cross-border operations in northern Syria, dubbed “Euphrates Shield” and “Olive Branch”, against the YPG and Islamic State.
The military offensives were focused on areas to the west of the Euphrates and Turkey has not gone east of the river, partly to avoid direct confrontation with U.S. forces. The operations carved out de facto buffer zones, which are currently under the control of Turkey and the FSA.
Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey will take over the fight against Islamic State militants in Syria as the United States withdraws its troops, adding that the planned operation would also target the YPG.
Ankara considers the U.S.-backed YPG militia a terrorist organisation and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency in Turkey since the 1980s.
(Reporting by Yesim Dikmen; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)