Erdoğan says Turkey will not take a step back from Afrin operation, hints Turkish troops to stay long there

Turkey will “not take a step back” from its operation into Afrin and has an agreement with Russia regarding its military offensive against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the northwestern Syrian city, Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Monday as military operation entered its third day.

Speaking at an awards ceremony of the Ankara Chamber of Industry at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Erdoğan vowed that Turkey would take control of Afrin, as it did in the Syrian towns of Jarablus, al-Rai and al-Bab, adding that Syrians “would be able to return home” after the operation.

“We are determined. Afrin will be sorted out. We will take no step back. We spoke about this with our Russian friends. We have an agreement,” Erdoğan told a televised meeting in Ankara. Erdoğan has also confirmed that Turkey had spoken with other powers, including the United States, about the operation but stated that “We couldn’t convince the US of some things.” However, he did not give further details, according to reports in pro-Erdoğan media.

“We as Turkey have no intention to occupy anywhere. We have a single goal, to win hearts,” claimed Erdoğan. He expressed impatience with demands, including from some officials in Washington, to set a clear timetable for the length of the operation. Erdoğan said the operation would be over “when the target is achieved.”

“How long have you been in Afghanistan? Is that over in Iraq?” he said, referring to the current US military presence in those countries which began with 2001 and 2003 invasions. “There is no maths in such a war. How dare you ask us? We will stay as long as we need, we have no interest in staying there, we know when we will leave.”

US CONCERNED, UK SUPPORTIVE OVER TURKISH MILITARY OPERATION IN SYRIA

On the other hand, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Monday while on a trip to London that they (US) are concerned about the Turkish incident in Northern Syria.

“We recognize and fully appreciate Turkey’s legitimate right to protect its own citizens from terrorist elements,” Tillerson said and added that he is asking both sides to show restraint and minimize civilian casualties. Tillerson has also said that the US is aiming to “see what we can do to work together to address Turkey’s legitimate security concerns.”

Amid Turkey’s military operation in a Syrian border region, the UK recognizes Turkey’s legitimate interest in the security of its borders, the prime minister’s office said in a statement on Monday. “We are closely following developments in Afrin in northwestern Syria,” the statement said. The UK regularly discusses issues relating to the conflict in Syria with Turkish authorities “in line with our shared aim of reducing violence and enabling a political settlement,” it added.

“We recognize that Turkey has a legitimate interest in the security of its borders,” it said. The UK is committed to working closely with Turkey and other allies to find solutions in Syria that provide stability, avoid escalating the situation, and protect Turkey’s security interests, the statement said.

Separately, on his Twitter account, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson wrote that “Turkey is right to want to keep its borders secure.” “We share the goal of reducing violence and keeping focus on most important task: a political process in Syria that leads to the end of the Assad regime,” he added.

A NATO statement on Monday has also said NATO has been in touch with Turkey over the developing offensive. NATO said Turkey has suffered from terrorism and has the right to self-defense but urged Ankara to do so in a “proportionate and measured way.” NATO also said it has no presence in Syria but that as members of the coalition against ISIL militants, “our focus is on the defeat” of the extremist group.

On Monday, Turkish Armed Forces and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has reportedly captured the strategically important Mt. Barsaya in Afrin. According to report by AA, PYD/PKK had been using the mountain, which overlooks Syria’s Azaz district and the Turkish province of Kilis, to attack civilians with howitzers and missiles.

Separately, the villages of Sheikh Badi, Marso and Haftar were also captured in northern Syria’s Bulbul district. With the newest land taken, the number of captured areas totals 15 on day three of Turkish military operation.

TSK/FSA OPENED NEW FRONT IN SYRIA’S AZAZ

Meanwhile, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) opened a new front in northern Syria’s Azaz district, east of Afrin on Monday, according to a report by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency (AA).  AA has reported that numerous Free Syrian Army (FSA) elements were taking part in the latest move. The Turkey-backed FSA fighters were deployed to Azaz on the eve of Operation Olive Branch.

AA has also claimed on Monday that the PYD/PKK has released all ISIL prisoners under the condition that they will fight against Turkish army and FSA in Syria’s Afrin region. According to the AA, Kurdish armed groups struck a deal with ISIL militants for using them as a tool against Turkey’s military operation in Afrin. AA has reminded that the PYD/PKK had previously reached a deal with ISIL, allowing hundreds of its militants to escape Raqqa with knowledge of the US; a big part of these radical Islamist terrorists then travelled towards the Turkish border.

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an umbrella organisation that includes Kurdish YPG, said on Monday it was studying whether to send reinforcements to the Afrin region of Syria to help fend off a Turkish attack. According to a report by Reuters, “We are in the framework of looking at the possibility of sending more military forces to Afrin,” SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel said in a televised news conference, calling for international efforts to halt the Turkish attack.

YPG spokesman Nouri Mahmoud, speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of the news conference, said that “Our forces prepared themselves and were betting on an attack by the current authority in Turkey.”

Mahmoud has also accused Russia, major military backer of Assad’s government, of giving permission to Turkey to fly its warplanes over Afrin. Russia withdrew its own forces from the region ahead of the attack. The SDF said Russia had switched off its radars.

The SDF and the YPG control a swathe of northern and eastern Syria in addition to the Afrin region in the northwest. The US has backed them with air strikes, arms, training and 2,000 troops on the ground, infuriating Turkey which considers the YPG to be allies of PKK that have battled the Turkish state for decades.

Reuters wrote that sending any reinforcements to Afrin from SDF-held areas further east would appear to require SDF fighters to pass through territory near Aleppo held by the government of President Bashar al-Assad, complicating the journey in a country where a multi-sided civil war is entering its eighth year.

ONE MORE PERSON KILLED, TWO OTHERS INJURED IN HATAY PROVINCE

Also on Monday, one person killed and two others were injured in a cross-border attack in southern Turkey as Turkish army’s operation in Syria’s northwestern town of Afrin continues. Turkish security sources said that PYD/PKK terrorists in Syria’s northwestern town of Afrin targeted the southern Hatay province with a mortar shell, killing one person and injuring two. The mortar hit the Kaletepe neighborhood of the Kırıkhan district. The injured were taken to a hospital.

Separately, a Turkish soldier was slightly injured in the border district of Ceylanpınar of the southeast province of Şanlıurfa after being hit by a PYD/PKK’s harassing fire opened from the al-Hasakah town of Syria. The soldier was taken to the Ceylanpınar State Hospital and he was in good condition, the same source said, adding that the Turkish troops deployed in the border region retaliated and hit targets in al-Hasakah’s Rasulayn district.

“The Operation Olive Branch” has been launched in Syria’s northwestern Afrin region to clear armed Kurdish groups such as the PKK and its affiliates KCK, PYD, YPG; and allegedly ISIL. While ground troops located in Kilis province near the Syrian border aim at PKK/PYD targets with howitzers, tank units, multiple rocket launchers, Turkish warplanes target previously identified targets in an air operation.

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