ANKARA - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his country's troops will not leave Syria until other countries pull out, insisting that Ankara will continue its cross-border offensive against Kurdish militants in northeastern parts of the Arab country until every one of them has left the region.
Turkish army forces and militants of the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA), who enjoy Ankara's patronage, on October 9 launched a cross-border offensive into northeastern Syria in a declared attempt to clear members of the so-called People's Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish militant group, from border areas.
Ankara regards the US-backed YPG as a terrorist organization tied to the homegrown Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militant group, which has been seeking an autonomous Kurdish region in the Anatolian country since 1984.
Ankara is seeking the establishment of a 32-kilometer "safe zone" totally clear from the presence of Kurdish militants in northeastern Syria. Turkey wants the area to be used for the relocation of two million Syrian refugees living in Turkey.
"We won't quit before the last terrorist leaves the region. This is one dimension of the issue. Secondly, we will not quit before other countries leave. We are in favor of Syria's unity and solidarity. We never want it disintegrated," Erdogan told reporters on Friday, when he was asked whether Ankara's "Operation Peace Spring" would continue.
After seizing a 120-km swathe of land along the border, Turkey struck deals with the US and Russia to keep the Kurdish militants out of that so-called buffer zone.
On October 22, Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin signed a memorandum of understanding that asserted YPG militants must withdraw from the Turkish-controlled "safe zone" within 150 hours, after which Ankara and Moscow would run joint patrols within the area.
The agreement was reached hours before a US-brokered five-day truce between Turkish and Kurdish-led forces was due to expire.
The Turkish president further said if other states deployed troops in Syria to defend the integrity of the Arab country, "they have to prove it." He emphasized that other countries, "neither Russia, nor the US or Iran," do not even share borders with Syria.
Erdogan's remarks come as the Syrian government has repeatedly condemned the Turkish offensive as an act of aggression.
But Iran provides military advisory assistance to Syrian government forces in the fight against foreign-backed Takfiri terrorists at the formal request of Damascus,.
Russian jets have also been carrying out air raids against militants in Syria at the Damascus government's formal request since September 2015.
However, the US has been conducting airstrikes inside Syria since September 2014 without any authorization from Damascus or a UN mandate. Washington has repeatedly been accused of targeting and killing civilians. There are also about 1,000 US troops mostly taking positions near Syria's oil fields after President Donald Trump's recent order.
Furthermore, Iran, Russia and Turkey act as the guarantors of an all-out ceasefire regime in Syria. Senior diplomats from the three countries have held several rounds of consultations with the Astana format amid efforts to find a political solution to the crisis in the Arab country.
The Turkish military has previously launched two cross-border incursions in northern Syria, namely the Euphrates Shield in August 2016 and the Olive Branch in January 2018, with the declared aim of eradicating Kurdish militants and Daesh Takfiri terrorists near Turkey's borders.