Former US President Barack Obama “lied to Turkey” on the issue of Syrian Kurdish fighters in Syria’s Manbij region and current US President Donald Trump “follows the same path,” Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said.
“Trump told us ‘they cannot stay there. They will go to the east of the Euphrates.’ He accepted that Arabs are the real owners of Manbij. But what he said has not come true. Now there is mobilization in Manbij. Manbij will find its real owners,” Erdoğan told pro-government Turkish reporters while returning to Turkey from an official visit to the Vatican and Italy, according to a report by Hürriyet daily news.
Erdoğan has also noted that there are many refugees in Turkey who had to “flee from Manbij but want to return to their homelands.”
Erdoğan’s remarks come ahead of an official visit to İstanbul this weekend from US President Donald Trump’s national security advisor, H.R. McMaster. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is also scheduled to visit Ankara Feb. 13.
Turkish government will reportedly tell Tillerson the two countries must repair damaged mutual trust, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told private broadcaster TGRT Haber in an interview on Tuesday, following a series of disagreements, especially over the Syria crisis.
President Erdoğan’s spokesman İbrahim Kalın expressed Ankara’s willingness to re-build a trust-based relationship with the United States but have underlined its expectations to see concrete measures taken from its ally, particularly on its cooperation with a terror-affiliated group in Syria, in a direct message on the eve of two key visits from Washington in the coming days.
Speaking to reporters at a press conference on Wednesday, Kalın said that “These visits are important because we are in efforts to re-establish trust with the US. But these are in fact concrete steps to be taken by the US to provide this trust.”
Kalın cited the US partnership with the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the fight against the jihadists in Syria, despite Turkey’s recognition of the group as a terrorist band. The US reluctance in the extradition of pacifist Turkish-Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen, as well as an ongoing court case against a Turkish state-bank, have also been cited by Kalın as issues straining ties between the two allies. “They do not suit the allied relationship between our countries,” he said.
Relations between the NATO allies have been strained by US support for the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria. Turkey is targeting the YPG in an air and ground operation in Syria’s northwestern Afrin district launched two weeks ago. President Erdoğan has promised to sweep the militants from Turkey’s southern border, a move that could put Turkish troops in confrontation with U.S. forces on the ground in Syria.
“Our trust is damaged. We have to mend our trust. The contacts between us are important,” Çavuşoğlu said and added that “When Tillerson comes we will share these ideas with him sincerely, we will share our expectations.”
Turkish media earlier reported that Tillerson and US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster would both visit Turkey in the near future. Çavuşoğlu did not say when they would visit. “The United States should understand and meet our concerns,” he said and continued “You are cooperating with this terror organisation (YPG) knowingly. And this poses a threat to us.”
ÇAVUŞOĞLU: NO CIVILIAN CASUALTIES IN SYRIA OPERATION
Çavuşoğlu has also claimed that there had been no civilian casualties at all so far in his country’s operation in the Afrin region of Syria, according to a report by pro-government CNN Türk news channel. “These are propaganda pictures taken over there, they have no value,” it quoted him as saying. “We are very careful about such things. No civilians at all have been killed up to today.”
CNN International reports of civilian deaths were false propaganda, Çavuşoğlu said. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria, said last week that 68 civilians had been killed in Afrin. “These are propaganda. These are the propaganda of the PKK and the YPG. They are the propaganda of those who sympathise with the PKK and YPG abroad,” he said.
Çavuşoğlu also said he had received a written apology from the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) over former Secretary of State John Kerry’s claim that Turkey had bought petrol from the ISIL. “The CIA apologised to us in writing,” he claimed.
On Tuesday Erdoğan repeated his demand for US forces to pull back from Manbij, saying the United States was setting itself up against Turkey, Iran and possibly Russia by arming the YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in a large part of northern Syria which borders Turkey.
President Erdoğan said on Tuesday that Turkey’s anticipated military operation into Syria’s Manbij will expel the Syrian Kurdish YPG from the city so its “original Arab owners” can be resettled there,
“Mr. Obama did not tell the truth. Trump is also on the same path. They said: ‘We will withdraw from Manbij.’ Why don’t you withdraw? Who have you brought to this city with you? The PYD (Democratic Union Party), the YPG and the (the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party) PKK. You allow them to settle and tell us ‘Don’t come to Manbij.’ We will come to Manbij to hand it over to its real owners,” Erdoğan told his ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) parliamentary group on Tuesday.
Manbij, a town in northwestern Syria, has become the focus of a growing bilateral spat between Turkey and the US in the aftermath of the defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The Obama administration had pledged to move YPG militants to the east of the Euphrates River after ISIL was pushed out.
The US has been partnering with the YPG in the fight against the ISIL despite Ankara’s fierce opposition. Senior Turkish officials repeatedly vowing that the next target is Manbij. “Those who equate Turkey with those marauders under the pretext of the anti-ISIL fight have now begun to realize which one is a state and which one is a band of gangs,” Erdoğan said.
Erdoğan also claimed that Turkey has “wasted the last two centuries with sacrifices” and has “lost around 5 million square kilometers” of land once ruled by the Ottoman Empire, suggesting that the “same powers” today consider the current size of the Republic of Turkey to be “too much for Turks.” “They have forced us so much that in the end they have awakened a sleeping giant. They should know this. The Turkish people are advancing to a new era. No state or international organization can question the power of Turkey any more,” Erdoğan said.
The country’s operations in Afrin and Idlib will continue as planned, the president said, stating that the number of “neutralized YPG terrorists already exceeds 1,000.” “Thanks to steps we have taken in Jarablus, 135,000 Syrians were able to return to their homes. Our objective is to create the conditions necessary to let the people of Afrin return to their homes. I told this to Trump and Obama. We’ll undertake the construction and you will support us. We will now see their humanitarian assistance,” Erdoğan said.
TURKISH MILITARY: “999 TERRORISTS NEUTRALISED IN AFRIN OPERATION”
At least 999 PYD/PKK and allegedly ISIL militants have been “neutralized” since the beginning of “Operation Olive Branch” in Syria’s Afrin, according to a statement by Turkish General Staff on Wednesday. Turkish authorities often use the word “neutralized” in their statements to imply the terrorists in question either surrendered or were killed or captured. The military has also said Turkish Armed Forces had neutralized 29 more militants in airstrikes that were carried out overnight.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has called for the Turkish operation in Afrin to come to an end, Qatari news site Al Jazeera reported on Tuesday. A military foreign intervention should be based on the authorisation of the host country and its people,” it quoted Rouhani as saying. Rouhani has also said the ongoing Turkish military operation in Afrin would not achieve its objectives.
During a press conference in Tehran, Rouhani stated that “We wish that Turkey’s operation in Syria will end at the earliest time… A foreign military intervention should be based on the authorization of the host country and its people.”
Meanwhile, Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Qasimi said the Turkish military intervention in Rojava threatened the security of the region and would “lead to a new civil war.”
TURKEY’S EU MINISTER SLAMS FRENCH FM OVER AFRIN
France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has also said on Wednesday that Turkey and Iran were among those violating international law by their actions in Syria and warned that Ankara should not add “war to war.” “Ensuring the security of its borders does not mean killing civilians and that should be condemned. In a dangerous situation in Syria, Turkey should not add war to war,” Le Drian told BFM TV. International law “is being violated by Turkey, by the Damascus regime, by Iran and those who are attacking eastern Ghouta and Idlib,” he said.
France’s foreign minister has made the worst possible statement on the Turkish-led Operation Olive Branch in Syria, said Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Ömer Çelik on Wednesday. Çelik quoted Le Drian as saying on Twitter: “It is Turkey’s legitimate right to ensure the security of its borders. However, ensuring the security of borders does not mean that you can kill civilians,”
On Çelik’s Twitter account, he called Le Drian’s remarks “the worst and the wrongest possible statement” on the operation. “Turkey’s fight against terrorism is fully in line with international law. The ones who violate law and commit crimes are the ones who provide arms to the PYD/YPG,” Çelik added, referring to the terrorist group that is the primary focus of the operation.
Çelik said Le Drian’s statement showed a “double standard on terrorism,” adding that “The ones who refrain to mention our citizens killed by the terrorist organization now present a non-existing picture as reality. This is just ignoring the massacres of the terrorist organisation we’re fighting in Afrin.”
On Jan. 20, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch to clear PYD/PKK and allegedly ISIL militants from Afrin, northwestern Syria. According to the Turkish General Staff, the operation aims to establish security and stability along Turkey’s borders and the region as well as “to protect Syrians from terrorist oppression and cruelty.”
Meanwhile, Turkish police detained 31 people in İstanbul on Wednesday as part of an investigation into the outlawed PKK. During the province-wide operation, 31 out of 43 people who are allegedly members of the left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Congress (HDK) were detained for alleged links to the PKK. A gun, a hunting rifle and a large number of bullets were reportedly seized.
Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Central Committee member Can Memiş, at least two other party council members and other administrators of HDP and the linked group Peoples’ Democratic Congress (HDK) were reported by journalist Hayri Tunç as having been detained.
The PKK, listed as a “terrorist organisation” by Turkey, the US and the EU, resumed its armed campaign against Turkey in July 2015. Since then, it has been kept responsible by Turkish government for the deaths of more than 1,200 Turkish security personnel and civilians, including women and children.