The terrorists will pay for our losses in Afrin: Erdoğan
Vahap Munyar - DAKAR
Turkey has vowed retaliatory military action against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) after eight Turkish troops were killed in an ambush in northern Syria’s Afrin district late on March 1, with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan voicing determination to continue “Operation Olive Branch.”
“We are carrying out our struggle there determinedly and we will continue to do so. We will make those terrorists pay in kind,” Erdoğan told reporters travelling with him in Dakar on March 2.
Eight Turkish troops were killed in an ambush by YPG militants and Erdoğan said he was informed by Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar immediately after the incident took place. Two members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) were also killed and some are wounded, while anti-aircraft weapons and the YPG personnel using them were neutralized as a result of heavy strikes, he added.
The killing of eight troops was announced by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) in two separate written statements late on March 1. It said 13 soldiers were wounded during the operation.
Doğan News Agency reported that intense fighting had broken out on the afternoon March 1 between Turkish Special Forces units recently deployed in Afrin and YPG militants, who mounted an ambush with the help of tunnels. According to the report, a Turkish helicopter sent to rescue the wounded had returned after being hit, while the area was shelled to allow an evacuation.
Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli stated that the toll of fallen soldiers had risen to 41, while 116 members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have been killed since the start of “Operation Olive Branch” into Afrin.
No problems with Russia
On a question over reports that Moscow is unhappy about Turkey’s operations into Afrin and has periodically closed air space to Turkish jets, Erdoğan denied such claims.
“We have no trouble with Russia on Afrin. The process for the establishment of observation spots in Idlib is going on and we have set eight spots so far. We will hold a three-way summit soon in Istanbul as a continuation of the Sochi [summit]. We will have a chance to elaborate on all these issues there,” he said.
Turkey, Russia and Iran, as guarantor countries of the Astana Agreement aiming to enhance and sustain a cease fire between the Syrian regime and the opposition, are due to meet in Istanbul in the coming weeks.
Civilians handed over to the “dragon”
Erdoğan also touched on the situation in besieged Eastern Ghouta, under siege from the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“I told [Russian President Vladimir] Putin that we were ready to bring civilian evacuees to Turkey for treatment.’ He was positive about this but we could not get it done. There are reports that the evacuees have been taken to Damascus instead. But sending them to Damascus means they have been delivered to the dragon,” he stated.
“Children and women are being killed there, although they say civilians will be protected. The video footage and the pictures speak for themselves. As a human, father, politician and even as a president I feel ashamed when I see what’s committed there. We cannot be a mere spectator to the cruelty,” Erdoğan said.
‘US fails to fulfill promises’
Upon recent statements from a senior U.S. official who said the YPG will not remain in Manbij and that Turkey is the “real ally” of the U.S. in the Syrian theater, Erdoğan said “many promises were made but not fulfilled” by Washington.
“[U.S. President Donald] Trump and his team are now giving the same [promises]. But these words have not been made concrete. [U.S. Secretary of State] Rex Tillerson suggested that we should take the YPG out of Manbij. ‘Half of Manbij should be under your control and the other half should be under our control,’ he said. But neither they nor we should control the city. It should be under the control of real owners of Manbij,” he added.
The security of the city could be provided jointly by Turkey and the U.S. if the Americans’ suggestion includes the return of Arabs to live there, Erdoğan said.
S-400 rift with US
On reports that Turkey could face sanctions from the U.S. for purchasing military equipment from Russia, specifically the S-400 anti-ballistic missile systems, Erdoğan stated that Greece bought Russian-made S-300 missiles but was never sanctioned.
“For us, a deal is a deal. This [deal] is over. We have agreed with Russia. We will never ask the consent of anybody when it is about the security of our country. Our expectation from our strategic partners, our allied countries, is to move in accordance with our alliance,” he said.
‘Greek Cypriots should deal with Turkish Cypriots for gas drill’
On Ankara’s position regarding ongoing tension in the Eastern Mediterranean following Greek Cyprus’ recent gas and oil exploration activities, Erdoğan said both sides of the divided island should work together on the issue.
“Both southern and northern Cyprus have rights on the oil and gas to be explored there. We cannot approve any sides’ unilateral move. If [Greek Cypriot President Nikos] Anastasiades wants to move in an honest way, there is one thing he should do: Reach a negotiated deal with northern [Cyprus] on how and by whom these activities should be carried out. Drilling needs to be conducted jointly and the produce should be shared,” he said, adding that Turkey now has its own drilling vessel and can launch its own exploration studies in the region.
“No step can be taken in that region without Turkey’s consent. Perhaps France will try to do this with Total in the future or the U.S. with Exxon. But it’s impossible for us to allow the violation of the rights of Turkey and Turkish Cyprus stemming from international law,” Erdoğan added.
Regarding his recent conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron on the same matter, Erdoğan said Macron called on him to adopt a “softer stance” on tension in the Eastern Mediterranean.