German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday sharply criticized an ongoing Turkish military offensive in the northern Syrian town of Afrin, describing it as unacceptable.
Speaking to lawmakers in the Bundestag’s lower house, Merkel said Turkey’s actions in Afrin were unacceptable despite its security interests. “I’m also condemning this in the strongest terms,” she added. The German chancellor had also earlier said she condemned the airstrikes on eastern Ghouta by Syrian forces “in the strongest terms.”
Turkey on Wednesday slammed Merkel’s remarks on ongoing Operation Olive Branch. In a written statement, the Foreign Ministry said it finds the “unfortunate explanation” by Merkel at the German parliament Wednesday about the operation “unacceptable”, “which is based on disinformation” and “not even remotely close to reality.”
“Turkey is aiming to ensure its national security by using its right to self-defense and to hand over Afrin to its rightful owners (civilians) by liberating it from terrorists with Operation Olive Branch,” it claimed. “Operation Olive Branch is a precedent in how to combat terrorism without harming any civilians,” the statement said.
The statement claimed the data received from Afrin which is regularly shared by Turkey with the public show the dimensions and unfounded nature of the propaganda against the ongoing operation. “In fact, there is no danger for the citizens of Afrin except the mines and explosives placed by PYD/YPG,” it added.
The statement said that during the operation, these mines and explosives are being cleared to establish security and stability in the region. “Whereas, we find it extremely odd for some of our allies to continue their tendency to look at events from the eyes of terrorist organisations. In close coordination and consultation with our country, we invite you to strive for the establishment of lasting peace, security and stability in Syria instead of falling to the position of countries supporting terrorism by lending credence to disinformation operations of terrorist organisations,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, autocratic Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Wednesday that Turkey’s military operations in neighboring Syria would not stop until the threat of terrorism is eliminated, while criticizing the US administration over recent remarks it made about Turkey. “Turkey will not stop in Syria until the terror threat is eliminated, Manbij being the first place,” Erdoğan said on Wednesday at an event in Ankara.
Stating that Turkey undertook the operation to secure its borders from threats coming from the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara regards as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Erdoğan stressed that Turkish forces “will continue to move” its operations in Syria. “I have always said that we are determined in this. If there are some people who have the courage, we dare [them to oppose us],” he added.
Erdoğan called on US President Donald Trump to “eliminate confusion in US policy” over Turkey. “We expect Mr. Trump to take a stance to prevent such statements that have reached an extent that can be considered as crossing the line. Those speaking on behalf of Mr. Trump do not know what they are saying,” he said.
Erdoğan once again urged the US to end its support of the YPG through the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). “They say they will not withdraw from Manbij. You have no right to be there, let alone withdraw from that place,” he said and added that “they have come from 12,000 kilometers away. Is this territory yours to come to in the first place? They came and brought the YPG along with them.”
“We want a fair administration. We are approaching the issue with a fair understanding. We haven’t gone anywhere to occupy; we have gone to build stability, to remove the terrorists there,” said Erdoğan
Also on Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said that Turkey and the US have reached “an understanding, but not full agreement,” about work for stabilizing the Syrian town of Manbij and other areas where the YPG are present.
“We said we have reached an understanding, which is mainly that Syria’s Manbij and the east of the Euphrates are stabilized. We said we have reached an understanding, not an agreement,” Çavuşoğlu said at a news conference in Ankara.
His remarks came after US State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said Turkey and the US had not yet reached an agreement.
During a press briefing on Tuesday, Nauert was asked about Turkish presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın’s claims of a deal between the US and Turkey over Manbij. “Well that’s funny because no agreement has been reached,” she said, adding that the department had nothing to announce at that time in response to the Turkish statement.
Kalın said on Tuesday that the US and Turkey had reached an agreement over Manbij and that the implementation of the Manbij deal would be delayed a couple of weeks until the new secretary takes over.
“It will not be enough for the YPG to retreat from Manbij. There will be other cities after Manbij,” Çavuşoğlu said, adding: “First, the YPG will leave and the people of Manbij will govern the city. The security of the area will be ensured. We will apply the Manbij model to other areas controlled by the YPG as well.”
Moreover, Yiğit Bulut, chief advisor to President Erdoğan, has said on public TV that Russia is more of a strategic partner and ally for Turkey than the United States is. Speaking on the state-run TRT News channel on Wednesday, Bulut also said there is no solidarity among NATO member countries and that the NATO concept is finished. “The balance of power in Middle East is controlled by Russia,” said Erdoğan’s advisor.
The Turkish military and Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters on Jan. 20 launched Operation Olive Branch in Afrin against the PYD/PKK. Turkey is being criticized for targeting civilians in Afrin and forcing thousands of residents to move out of the city.