Turkish president says army to extend offensive in northwestern Syria
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to extend the military operation further east of Syria’s northwestern region, prompting fears of confrontation with US-led forces stationed in the area.
“We will continue this process until we entirely eliminate this corridor, including in Manbij, Ayn al-Arab, Tal Abyad, Ras al-Ayn and Qamishli,” Erdogan said on Monday.
US Army Colonel Rob Manning, the Pentagon spokesman, expressed Washington’s criticism of Turkey’s operation in Afrin region on Monday.
Observers say expansion of Turkey’s campaign into other Kurdish-held territories in northwestern Syria would risk confrontation with the US-led troops deployed alongside the Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the area.
“We are very concerned about the effect that fighting there [in Afrin] has had” on the fights against Daesh terrorists, Manning told a press conference.
The US State Department also expressed concern over the humanitarian ramifications of the Turkish operation in Afrin.
“This adds to the already concerning humanitarian situation in the area, with United Nations agencies reporting a displaced population in or from Afrin district in the hundreds of thousands, who now require immediate shelter and other assistance to meet basic needs,” Bloomberg quoted State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert as saying in an emailed statement on Monday.
“We have repeatedly expressed our serious concern to Turkish officials regarding the situation in Afrin,” she added.
Meanwhile, Aljazeera cited Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin as saying that Turkey and the US had reached a general agreement on Manbij, adding that Ankara is currently waiting for the US-led side to implement the deal.
Erdogan also warned that Turkey would launch an offensive against Kurdish fighters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq if Baghdad did not clear the region of them.
“If you are going to handle this, you do it,” Erdogan said in remarks directed at Iraq. “If you cannot handle it, then we may suddenly enter Sinjar one night and clear out the PKKs there.”
The remarks were made a day after Turkish soldiers, backed by members of the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) militia, captured the city of Afrin, the main population center in the region, from Kurdish militants, particularly those of the YPG.
On Monday, the Syrian government sent two letters to the United Nations condemning the capture of Afrin by the Turkish military as “illegitimate.” The letters called on Ankara to “immediately” pull out its troops from the northwestern Syrian city.
Damascus has on several occasions criticized Ankara for its military offensive on Syrian soil, accusing it of supporting “terrorist” groups.
Turkey launched the so-called Operation Olive Branch in Afrin on January 20 in a bid to eliminate the YPG, which Ankara views as a terror organization and the Syrian branch of the PKK.
Over 280 civilians have lost their lives since the offensive began, according to the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
In August 2016, Turkey began a unilateral military intervention in northern Syria, code-named Operation Euphrates Shield, sending tanks and warplanes across the border. Ankara claimed that its campaign was aimed at pushing the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group from Turkey’s border with Syria and stopping the advance of Kurdish militants, who were themselves fighting Daesh.
Turkey ended its campaign in northern Syria in March 2017, but at the time did not rule out the possibility of yet another military offensive inside the Arab country.