Erdoğan blasts US for spreading ‘fake news’ over Afrin
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has harshly slammed the United States for “spreading fake news” about civilian casualties during the Turkish military’s ongoing operation in Syria’s Afrin district, accusing Ankara’s NATO ally of operating a “lie machine.”
“Yesterday, the defense ministry spokesman one of these countries said unashamedly that ‘civilians are dying in Afrin and people cannot return to their homes due to violence.’ You are remorseless and immoral. You don’t feel the tiniest discomfort of the massacre of hundreds of children, women and civilians every day in East Ghouta but you express your annoyance at our fight against terrorists. You are spreading fake news,” Erdoğan said in a speech to ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) officials in Ankara on Feb. 23.
“Our army is paying utmost attention so that no harm comes to even a single civilian. That’s why our operation is a lengthy one. It would have already finished if we were not trying to distinguish civilians from terrorists,” he said.
He was speaking after Pentagon Spokesperson Adrian Galloway on Feb. 21 said the U.S. is concerned about the effects of “Operation Olive Branch” on Afrin’s civilian population. Galloway said the U.S. authorities will “do their best in their contacts with their Turkish counterparts to reduce tensions and harm to civilians.”
Erdoğan’s speech also came a week after Turkey and the U.S. agreed to establish a “joint mechanism” aiming to resolve problems stemming from different priorities in Syria. Turkey has long criticized the U.S. for partnering with the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), calling on Washington to take back all weapons delivered to the group.
Turkey on Jan. 20 launched “Operation Olive Branch” along with members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) against the YPG in Afrin and is now planning to lay siege to the city center.
President Erdoğan accused the U.S. of trying to legitimize the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the YPG’s sister organization, by changing its name to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) for the anti-Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) campaign. He also referred to “unfulfilled promises” given by U.S. officials about the withdrawal of YPG militants from Manbij to the east of the Euphrates River.
Turkey will “no longer buy lies, empty promises and delaying tactics,” Erdoğan said, in reference to ongoing talks with Washington.
“It looks like this summer will be hot for the terrorist organization and for those that support it. We will first clear Manbij of terrorists and then we’ll continue our operation in order to secure the eastern Euphrates for us and our Syrian brothers,” he added.
‘New strategy in Afrin’
Regarding the ongoing Afrin operation, which has been criticized for slow progress and dependence on Russia, Erdoğan said it had so far “secured around 400 square kilometers.” The pace of the operation will now pick up as the Turkish military and the FSA have taken control of the hills surrounding Afrin, he added.
“We will speedily pursue our operation with a new strategy after besieging Afrin and cutting the terrorists’ links with the outside [world],” Erdoğan stressed.
He also claimed that Arab, Kurdish and Turkmen locals in Afrin were satisfied with the ongoing operation.
“Our presence [in Syria] only disturbs terrorists and people who support terrorists. In due course we will hopefully allow hundreds of thousands of local people to return their homeland after clearing terrorists from Afrin,” Erdoğan said, repeating a vow he recently made about sending Syrian refugees in Turkey back to their home country.