Turkish military operation into Afrin begins, Manbij to follow: Erdoğan
Turkish military operation into the northern Afrin province of Syria has 'actively begun in the field,' President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Jan. 20, speaking in the central Anatolian province of Kütahya.
Syria's Manbij will be the next destination for a Turkish combat operation, Erdoğan added, addressing the crowd during the sixth regular congress held by his Justice and Development Party (AKP).
"The promises made to us over Manbij were not kept. So nobody can object if we do what is necessary," Erdoğan said, referring to past U.S. assurances that the Peoples' Protection Unit (YPG) would move out of Afrin.
"Later we will, step by step, clear our country up to the Iraqi border from this terror filth that is trying to besiege our country."
The U.S. State Department on Jan. 18 urged Turkey not to take any action in northern Syria, calling on Ankara to remain focused on the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
At a news briefing, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. wanted Turkey to abstain from violence in the northwestern city of Afrin.
Turkey, on the other hand, stood its ground, and has in recent days sent dozens of military vehicles and hundreds of troops to the border area amid repeated threats from top officials that an operation could be launched at any moment.
Turkish forces have over the last two days shelled U.S.-backed Kurdish militia targets around Afrin and also mobilised pro-Ankara rebel fighters in Syria for the offensive.
What happened before?
On Jan. 14, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the Turkish army will launch a military operation into Afrin, a region bordering Turkey’s Hatay and Kilis provinces controlled by the YPG.
Erdoğan said the Afrin operation would be an extension of the seven-month Operation Euphrates Shield in northern Syria, which ended in March 17 and aimed to fight against ISIL and curb the YPG in the area.
The Turkish Army (TSK) on Jan. 18 ordered its troops on the Syrian border in southern Turkey to increase security measures to the “highest level” ahead of a possible military operation into Afrin.
The development followed talks held by the Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar, National Intelligence Organization (MİT) chief Hakan Fidan and Russian Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov in Moscow on Jan. 18.
The heart of the conflict
Turkey accuses the YPG of being the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has waged a rebellion in the Turkish southeast for more than three decades and is regarded as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.
But the YPG has been the key ally of Turkey’s fellow NATO member the United States in the fight against ISIL, playing a key role in pushing the extremists out of their Syrian strongholds.