President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has vowed that Turkish military operations in Syria will reach as far as the Iraqi border in order to clear the entire area of terrorists.
He said that when the Turkish-rebel coalition is successful in Afrin he will launch another offensive to dislodge the US-backed Kurdish militias from Manbij as well: “’Operation Olive Branch’ will continue until it reaches its goals. We will rid Manbij of terrorists, as was promised to us before. Our battles will continue until no terrorist is left right up to our border with Iraq”
Erdogan’s foreign minister said Ankara wants to see US withdraw from Manbij immediately.
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Hurriyet Daily News reports:
His remarks came as “Operation Olive Branch,” which targets the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria’s northwestern Afrin district, marks its first week.
Erdoğan stressed that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) elements are carrying out a successful operation, vowing to “walk on our road until the end.”
Turkey has a 911-kilometer border with Syria, around 600 kilometers of which is under the control of the YPG. Erdoğan said Ankara’s plans to extending the current offensive by Turkish forces towards Manbij, part of Kurdish-held territory some 100 km (60 miles) east of Afrin. Some U.S. troops have also been located in Manbij since 2016, when the city was liberated from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
‘No occupation of Afrin’
Erdoğan emphasized once again that Turkey is “only fighting terrorists in Afrin, not occupying Syria,” contrasting the operation with those of the “the big powers in Mali, Rwanda and elsewhere in the world.”
“We are not occupying Afrin. On the contrary, we are trying to make it a livable place for its real owners while clearing out terrorists from there,” he said, pointing to Turkey’s efforts to fix the damaged infrastructure of cities like Jarablus, al-Rai and al-Bab in northwestern Syria, which has allowed around 100,000 Syrians to return to their homes so far.
Similarly, operations in Afrin will allow “all of the 3.5 million Syrians” currently being sheltered in Turkey to return to their homes, Erdoğan said.
‘Utmost care to protect civilians’
Criticizing U.S. President Donald Trump and other officials for urging Turkey to wrap up its operations within a limited time frame, Erdoğan stressed that the TSK is “moving carefully in the field in order not to cause civilian casualties.”
“We could certainly accomplish this operation in a short time period if we did not take care of civilians. I ask those who advise us to finish the operation quickly: What would you do if rockets were reigning down on your cities and churches from the other side of your borders? What would your reaction be if your people were killed as a result of rockets fired while worshipping in your churches?” he said.
The Turkish president also revealed that Trump asked him “not to criticize the U.S.” in their phone conversation late on Jan. 24.
“OK. But how can a strategic partner do such a thing to its strategic partner?” he said, referring to U.S. support to the YPG, which Ankara regards as a terrorist organization.
‘Operation is a clear warning’
Erdoğan said “Operation Olive Branch” is a “clear warning” to those who “do not want to understand” Turkey’s determination in the fight against terrorism, noting that at least 343 terrorists have been “neutralized” since the beginning of the operation.
Ankara considers the YPG to be an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade-long insurgency in Turkey. Washington sees the YPG as an effective partner in the fight against ISIL in Syria, which has infuriated Turkey.