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Turkey's Erdogan threatens Syrian Kurdish groups as local elections near

The Turkish president said his country would "not hesitate to take action" as Ankara dials up its threats of a fresh military incursion into regions held by Kurdish-led groups in Syria.

ANKARA — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out Thursday at the upcoming local elections in the de facto autonomous region in northern Syria. 

The Kurdish-led administration is set to hold local elections on June 11 to choose the leaders of four areas included in the region. 

During a ceremony on the sidelines of a major Turkish military exercise in the Aegean province of Izmir, Erdogan described the planned elections as a threat to Turkey's territorial integrity, saying, “We did what needed to be done before," referring to Turkey’s military incursions into Kurdish-held regions of Syria.

“We will not hesitate to take action again if we encounter the same situation,” he added.

Turkey considers the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, the armed wing of the autonomous administration in northern Syria, a threat to its national security due to its ties with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the militant group fighting for Kurdish self-rule inside Turkey.

“We are closely following the terrorist organizations' aggressive actions aimed against the territorial integrity of our country and Syria under the pretext of an election,” Erdogan said. “Turkey will never allow the separatist organization to establish a 'terroristan' in the north of Syria and Iraq, just beyond its southern borders.”

Headquartered in northern Iraq, the PKK has been fighting for Kurdish self-rule inside Turkey since 1984. While the PKK is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, the SDF remains the main ally of Western powers in the fight against the Islamic State.

Erdogan also criticized the ongoing alliance between the SDF and the US-led international coalition against ISIS, describing it as “an insidious plan that directly targets our country and region.” Using the Arabic acronym for ISIS, Erdogan went on, “I want it to be known that the argument of fighting against DAESH no longer has any validity in our eyes.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan and his US counterpart, Antony Blinken, also discussed the “latest situation in Syria,” according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu News Agency. Turkey has been pressing Washington to axe its alliance with the SDF and more recently to withdraw its roughly 1,000 troops stationed in northern Syria.

The upcoming local elections come as Ankara's threats to establish a secure zone 30 kilometers (roughly 18 miles) deep beyond its border with northern Iraq and Syria are growing louder, citing national security concerns.

“We will not stop until we destroy all the terrorist nests in Syria, from Tal Rifaat to Ayn Al Arab [Kobani], from Hasakah to Manbij,” Erdogan vowed in January. 

Turkey launched four ground incursions into Syria's SDF-held regions from 2016 to 2020 and its airstrikes in the region are ongoing.