Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli says no troops have gone into Syria's Kurdish-controlled Afrin region but the operation has started "de facto" with cross-border shelling.
Canikli said in an interview with broadcaster AHaber Friday that Turkey was developing weapons systems against anti-tank missiles used by US-backed YPG militants.
He said the planned military operations in the northwestern Syrian region should be carried out with no delay to purge the territories of what he called terrorist elements.
Amid its rising tensions with the US, Turkey said Thursday it would seek Russia’s approval for the operation as the country's Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar traveled to Moscow for negotiations.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Akar’s trip was part of boarder efforts by Ankara to coordinate the campaign with Russia.
He said the presence of Russian observers in Afrin was an issue that has to be discussed ahead of the operation.
“When we carry out an intervention, we need to coordinate on this, it should not impact the Russian observers,” said Cavusoglu, adding that the coordination will also cover the situation in Idlib, a militant-controlled region northwest of Syria where Turkey backs an array of anti-Damascus groups.
“We are meeting the Russians and Iran on the use of air space,” the top Turkish diplomat added.
Cavusoglu had earlier said the planned Syria operation may expand beyond Afrin to the nearby city of Manbij.
Washington angered Ankara earlier this week when it announced a plan to work with US-backed militants of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to set up a new 30,000-strong “border security” force near the Turkish border.
The force would operate along the Turkish border with Iraq and within Syria along the Euphrates River.
Cavusoglu further reiterated Turkish concerns over Kurdish militant activities near its borders and said, “Our response to this is our legitimate right to retaliate. We told the United States this.”
The White House later denied the plan, with Secretary of State Tillerson saying that the issue, which has incensed its NATO ally Ankara, had been “misportrayed, misdescribed. Some people misspoke.”
Turkey said the denial was “important,” but that it “cannot remain silent in the face of any formation which will threaten its borders.”
Ankara views the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), an offshoot of SDF, a terrorist organization linked to the homegrown Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group, which has been fighting for independence inside Turkey.
Wary of the YPG’s activities at its doorstep, Turkey has repeatedly called on the US to stop supporting the Kurdish militants and take back the arms it has supplied to them under the pretext of fighting the Daesh terror group.
However, Syria has censured both the American and Turkish plans for a fresh wave of unilateral military operations on its soil. Damascus views such measures as an assault on the country’s sovereignty.
The Syrian government has also indicated that it would shoot down any Turkish planes entering its skies.
Turkey, Iran and Russia are the guarantors of a countrywide ceasefire in Syria. The three have been mediating a peace process since January 2016 among Syria’s warring sides in Astana, Kazakhstan.
As part of the Astana format, four de-escalation zones have been established across Syria amid ongoing political efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict gripping the Arab country since 2011.
The zones have helped reduce fighting significantly, while giving Turkey a breath to beef up security along its southern borders.