Turkey is not in Afrin as an ‘invasion’ force: Erdoğan
Turkey’s sole objective in Afrin in northern Syria is to “clear the border of terrorists” and to eliminate potential threats to its national security, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said, stressing that the Turkish army is not in Afrin as an “invasion” force.
“We have now put a comma down and God willing we will make a full stop. We won’t be limited to this [operation]. There will be extensions. They will also be sorted out. Our intention is not invade but to carry out operations to cleanse terrorists and eliminate terrorist threats to our country,” Erdoğan said at a ceremony held for newly appointed judges and prosecutors on March 19 in Ankara.
His words came one day after Turkish troops and Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters took control of Afrin city center on the 58th day of “Operation Olive Branch” against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
The president said a total of “3,622 YPG terrorists have been neutralized so far.”
“We have completed an important stage of ‘Operation Olive Branch’ by taking control of the city center of Afrin. We will continue this process until we have entirely abolished the corridor through Manbij, Ayn al-Arab, Tel-Abyad, Ras al-Ayn and Qamishli,” Erdoğan stressed.
Apart from Manbij, all these spots are located east of the Euphrates river, where the YPG has its own headquarters and military deployments.
In Manbij the presence of YPG fighters alongside U.S. military elements has created a major diplomatic row between Ankara and Washington. Turkey and the U.S. have recently engaged in dialogue for the withdrawal of all YPG troops from this city to east of the Euphrates but the dismissal of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has led to question marks over the diplomatic process.
Sinjar may be the next target
Erdoğan also stated that northern Iraq is now on Turkey’s radar, directly referencing the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) presence in Iraq’s Sinjar province. The PKK is the parent organization of the YPG and has reportedly working to turn Sinjar province along the Iraqi-Syrian border into a new stronghold.
“We have told the central [Iraqi] government that the PKK is establishing a new headquarters in Sinjar. ‘If you can deal with it, you handle it. But if you cannot we will suddenly enter Sinjar one night and clear this region of terrorists. If we are friends, you will make it easy for us. We told all this to previous Iraqi central governments as well. If things are furthered prolonged then another ‘Operation Olive Branch’ will be carried out there,” he said.
Turkish and Iraqi officials have in recent months discussed potential joint actions against the PKK presence in Sinjar at high-level political and military talks.
‘Troops will not stay in Afrin’
Echoing Erdoğan, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ on March 19 both said Turkish forces will not remain in Syria’s Afrin and will leave the region to its “real owners.
The country has “significantly reduced threats” on its borders after capturing the town of Afrin, Bozdağ said, adding that Turkey has collected “most” of the weapons given to YPG militants by the United States, as the YPG left them behind as they fled the town.
“We have no eye on anybody’s soil. It was our responsibility to eliminate terrorists in this region on behalf of our oppressed brothers. We are taking necessary measures to provide comfort in Afrin,” Yıldırım stressed.
“Those who arm and encourage terror organizations have no right to say anything against Turkey,” he added.