Turkish government calls on US to pullback troops from Manbij in Syria

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on Saturday called on the United States to withdraw military personnel from the Kurdish-held town of Manbij in northern Syria, amid tension that escalated between Ankara and Washington following Turkey’s operation in the Kurdish-controlled Afrin region of Syria.

According to an AFP report, Çavuşoğlu said in Antalya that it is “necessary for them [the US] to immediately withdraw from Manbij,” where Washington has a military presence.

Earlier in the day, Turkish pro-government media has reported on Saturday that US President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster “confirmed” that the US was not going to provide any more weapons to the YPG in a telephone call with Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s spokesperson İbrahim Kalın. There was no statement from the White House regarding the call. Trump had told Erdoğan to show “restraint” in the Afrin offensive.

TWO MORE TURKISH SOLDIERS WERE KILLED

Meanwhile, a total of 447 PYD/PKK militants have been “neutralized” since the beginning of Operation Olive Branch in northwestern Afrin region of Syria, Turkish military said on Saturday. The military generally uses the term “neutralize” to signify that the targets were killed.

According to a statement issued by the Turkish General Staff, the army “neutralized” 53 PYD/PKK militants alone on Saturday. The statement said 22 Turkish jets safely returned to their bases after destroying 42 targets — used as weapon pits, shelters, and ammunition depots by the PYD/PKK and ISIL terrorist groups.

It added two Turkish soldiers were killed, while 11 others were wounded with no life threatening injuries in Saturday’s clashes with “terrorists.” Two members of the Free Syrian Army were also killed and four others injured, according to the statement.

The Turkish Armed Forces has early on Saturday stated that it destroyed 340 targets, among them weapon pits, shelters, and ammunition depots, of PKK/KCK/PYD-YPG since the beginning of the operation, the Turkish General Staff said in a statement. The military reiterated that it is taking the utmost care during the operation to not harm any civilians.

“The only things being targeted are terrorists, and any shelters, pits, weapons, vehicles, and equipment that belong to them,” it said. Operation Olive Branch is “successfully continuing as planned,” the military added. During the operation, three Turkish soldiers have been killed and 30 injured, while 13 members of the Turkey’s local ally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have been killed and 24 injured.

However, according to Afrin Health Council Co-chair Anjela Reşo and Afrin Hospital official Dr. Ciwan Mihemed, the number of civilians killed during the Turkish military operation has risen to 50 on Saturday. It was also said that most of the victims are children and women. The number of wounded has also been announced as 137. Six of the killed civilians were reportedly members of a family that migrated to Afrin from the Til Qirahe village of the Shehba canton. Reşo and Mihemed said all victims and wounded people brought to the hospital had been documented with videos and photographs.

İbrahim Karagül and Erdoğan.

İbrahim Karagül, the editor-in-chief of the pro-government Yeni Şafak daily, published an editorial on Friday condemning the United States and calling it an “enemy country,” saying it is no longer trustworthy and is neither a partner nor an ally of Turkey.

“… the US is now the closest, greatest and most open threat for Turkey. It is an enemy country. It is a serious threat to our country’s existence, its unity, integrity, present and the future. It is carrying out an open attack, and an undeclared war against Turkey,” Karagül wrote.

After asserting that the US had fomented clashes in Turkey’s cities as a “rehearsal for invasion,” he accuses the US of pitting the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) against Turkey in Syria and claims the US caused the Syrian war to break out in the first place, which he says was the opening of the “Turkey front” in a plan “camouflaged by NATO … to divide and destroy Turkey.”

Claiming that Turkey is engaged in a new war of independence that is being carried out against the US and its close allies, Karagül says: “The threat has now been identified. The danger is now clear. A big front was established to stop Turkey, which is back on its feet after a century, to make it kneel, to make it shrink,” adding that “NATO alliance relations have no significance left for us. Friendship ties with the U.S. have no meaning left. For a country they could sacrifice to a terrorist organization, the U.S. and its close allies have become the primary threat.”

Karagül also insists that İncirlik Air Base, a Turkish military facility used by the US-led coalition forces to fight the war against ISIL in Syria, be immediately shut down since “terrorist organizations are being controlled from this base.” He says if it isn’t closed, “thousands of people [will] surround and siege” the base.

Saying Turkey is determined and will make all decisions not with the US’s prompting but “with its own identity, its historic stance, and its millennium-old political experience in the region,” Karagül writes: “Turkey should build islands of resistance not only along its border, but within the depths of the region, everywhere it can reach. … This is ‘relentless resistance.’ It is a resistance that will tear up their draft maps.”

Turkey’s EU Minister Ömer Çelik told the 29-member block on Thursday to side with Ankara in its military campaign against militants in northern Syria. Çelik told AFP in an interview after meeting senior European Union officials in Brussels that Turkey was protecting “legitimate security interests” in its fight against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Islamic Satte of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

“What we want to hear from our allies and friends is that they should say we are next to Turkey, we are sided with Turkey when it comes to fighting against terrorism and when it comes to [what is] actually happening in Afrin,” Çelik told AFP.

“We had clearly told our friends and allies they should not support YPG, and we suggested then that we should do this operation together but they did not do so,” he said. “That’s why Turkey had to do it, and at the end of the day actually had to launch and implement this operation by itself,” Çelik said, adding that Turkey was protecting “also the security of Europe.”

Çelik was meeting EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini, who said on Jan. 22 that she was “extremely worried” by the Turkish campaign. He also met European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans. The EU Minister said the campaign was called “Operation Olive Branch” because “actually we are extending an olive branch to the Syrian people and the people living in Afrin.”

Turkey on Jan. 20 launched a military operation in the northern Syrian region of Afrin, which is controlled by the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).

Calling on the US to have the PYD to lay down all their weapons, Çavuşoğlu said, “They [the US] should take back the weapons they provided.”

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 would be the next target.

Manbij is controlled by the Kurdish-led, US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

Turkey sees the PYD as the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

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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