Iran launched unannounced drills Wednesday near its border with Turkey as the Islamic Republic warned its neighbor not to move forward with its military operation in northern Syria and Russia criticized the United States for setting up a potentially deadly scenario in the region.
Iranian army chief Major General Abdul Rahim Mousavi oversaw what was described as surprise exercises designed to “measure the readiness, mobility and speed” of his forces in the country’s northwest. Without specifying the exact nature of the maneuvers, Mousavi explained in an official release that the results of the drills were positive.
“This is a good message for the great Iranian nation that its soldiers and children are fully prepared to carry out their missions to counter any possible enemy movement,” Mousavi said, saying the troops are “at the peak of their readiness.”
“The message to the enemies is that if they make the wrong calculations, they should know that the children of this land are ready to resist with their full power at any time and place,” he added.
The drills came as Iran, an ally of the Syrian government, continued to voice concerns toward pro-opposition Turkey’s planned incursion into northern Syria. The operation planned to target both the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the major component of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, and the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), both of which Ankara considers terrorist organizations.
“We have made it clear that the solution to establishment of security in the northern Syrian and southern Turkish borders is possible only with the presence of the Syrian army and we must provide all grounds for the Syrian military presence in these areas,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said when in a cabinet meeting, according to his office. “The Americans must leave the region, and the Kurds should cooperate with the Syrian Army, which is actually their own country
“The path chosen today and the agreements that are happening behind the scenes will not benefit the region, and we call on our friend and brother Turkey and its government to pay more attention and patience in such matters,” he added.
The U.S., which is opposed to Iran’s presence in Syria and disavows the government due to alleged war crimes, has repositioned its forces out of harm’s way ahead of the Turkish assault, which reportedly began Wednesday with strikes on Kurdish militias positions. The U.S. has offered conflicting statements about its views toward the coming attack, with President Donald Trump suggesting he was in support of Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s long-threatened military actions, while the Pentagon described his moves as “unilateral” and signaled disapproval.
The Syrian Democratic Forces have been the major local partner of the U.S.-led fight against ISIS in Syria since 2015, when focus began to shift away from an increasingly Islamist opposition trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who received a major boost via a Russian military intervention around that same time. ISIS has since been largely defeated by the rival U.S.-led coalition and pro-government campaigns.
“Fighting between various groups that has been going on for hundreds of years. USA should never have been in Middle East. Moved our 50 soldiers out. Turkey MUST take over captured ISIS fighters that Europe refused to have returned. The stupid endless wars, for us, are ending!,” Trump tweeted Wednesday.
With the rebels and other jihadis of Syria’s insurgency also widely defeated, the government and the Syrian Democratic Forces were left as the two major factions in the country. Months of negotiations between the two have so far been unsuccessful and both Moscow and Damascus have blamed Washington’s de facto support for Kurdish self-rule.
“Americans must understand that the processes that have unfolded in the north-east of Syria over the past few years are a direct violation of the requirements of the UN Security Council resolution on respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Syria,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during a joint press conference with his Kazakh counterpart.
“The Americans organized quasi-state structures there, ensured their livelihoods, vitality, and very actively promoted the Kurdish issue in a way that aroused opposition among the Arab tribes traditionally living in these territories. This is a very dangerous game,” he added, calling for “serious changes in their inconsistent, contradictory policies.”
Despite being on different sides of Syria’s protracted conflict, Moscow, along with fellow government supporter Tehran, has worked with Ankara as part of a trilateral peace process based in the Kazakh capital of Astana, since renamed Nur-Sultan. Though Russia has been reserved in its criticism toward Turkey, Lavrov echoed Rouhani in saying that the only solution would be “through a dialogue between the central government in Damascus and representatives of the Kurdish communities traditionally living in these territories.”
The Syrian Foreign Ministry, for its part, “condemns in the strongest possible terms the aggressive statements and aggressive intentions of the Turkish regime and the military build-up on the Syrian border which is a flagrant violation of international law and a flagrant violation of UN Security Council resolutions, all of which emphasize respect for unity, safety and sovereignty of Syria,” as reported Tuesday the official Syrian Arab News Agency. Should Turkey move forward with its attack, the statement warned Ankara would forfeit its position in the Astana process.