Turkey’s Erdoğan slams US, says Manbij next target

Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday reacted to calls from the US to wrap up an operation in the Afrin region of Syria, defying Washington and saying that Manbij will be the next target, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

“It [the operation] is in its seventh day. How long did it take in Afghanistan? Around 20 years. How long in Iraq? About 18 years, and you are still there. Libya, Mali, Rwanda, how long did they take?” said Erdoğan during a meeting in Ankara of ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) provincial heads.

“Why do you rush when Turkey is the subject?” he asked, reacting to calls from the West that Turkey end the operation as soon as possible.

Erdoğan said: “We are not occupying Afrin. On the contrary, we are trying to make it a livable place for the real owners while clearing the terrorists out of there.”

Strongly criticizing the US’s relations with the outlawed the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), Erdoğan shared the content of his phone call with US President Donald Trump on Wednesday. “Mr. President [Trump] says ‘Do not criticize us so much.’ OK, but if we are strategic partners, how can such a thing be done to a strategic partner?”

Rebuffing calls from Washington that Turkey not expand its operations to the Syrian city of Manbij, which is controlled by Kurdish militias, Erdoğan continued to say that “Operation Olive Branch will continue until it achieves its goals. After that, we will cleanse Manbij of terrorists as we promised before. Nobody should be disturbed by this because the real owners of Manbij are not terrorists but our Arab brothers living there.” He added that “After that we will continue until no terrorists exist all the way to the Iraqi border.”

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Friday that the Afrin region in Syria would be handed over to Syrians once it was cleared from terrorists through Operation Olive Branch. “After clearing them, we will hand the region over to its real owners; namely, we will hand it over to Syrians,” said he at an event in Antalya.

Çavuşoğlu has also continued to slam the US over its “double-faced” actions, providing arms to PYD/PKK terrorists and expressing concern for civilians as well as the length of the operation. “Do not be double-faced, be honest,” Çavuşoğlu said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the situation in Syria’s Afrin with the national security council on Friday, Interfax news agency cited Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying. Peskov also said Putin spoke about Afrin in a phone call with Turkish President Erdoğan on Tuesday.

Also on Friday, one more rocket fired by PYD/PKK in Syria hit Turkey’s border province of Hatay. The rocket landed in an empty area near a bazaar in the Mustafa Kemal neighborhood in the Reyhanlı district. No casualties were reported following the incident.

Although the campaign is in its seventh day on Friday, Turkish soldiers and their Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel allies appear to have made limited gains, held back by poor weather that has limited air support, reported Reuters. Three Turkish soldiers and 11 of their Syrian rebel allies have been killed in clashes so far, Turkey’s health minister said on Friday. A further 130 people were wounded, he said, without saying if they were civilians or combatants.

Turkey said it had killed at least 343 militants since the operation started. The Kurdish-led forces have said Turkey was exaggerating the number it had killed.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG, has claimed 308 fighters from the Turkish side had been killed in the first week of the incursion. Forty-three SDF fighters had died, including eight women, the SDF said. In addition, 134 civilians had been wounded and 59 killed, it said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group, said at least 38 civilians have been killed since the start of the operation, two of them by SDF shelling.

Seven members of one family died and one was injured when a house collapsed under Turkish shelling in the early hours of Friday in the town of Maatala in Afrin region, the head of the Kurdish Red Crescent in Afrin, Nuri Sheikh Qanbar, said.

Turkey on Jan. 20 launched Operation Olive Branch in Syria’s Afrin region, which is controlled by the PYD. President Erdoğan on Oct. 8 said Turkey would not allow a Kurdish corridor in Syria extending along the Turkish border to the Mediterranean. (SCF with turkishminute.com)

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