Erdogan Threatens to Expand Syria Offensive Despite Criticism

Tensions between Ankara and Washington are already high but the offensive added further strain to their relationship
Erdogan Threatens to Expand Syria Offensive Despite CriticismErdogan Threatens to Expand Syria Offensive Despite Criticism

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday threatened to expand Turkey’s offensive in Syria against a Kurdish militia despite calls for restraint from its western allies.

On the seventh day of the operation against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, Erdogan vowed to “clean up” the Syrian city of Manbij, AFP reported.

The United States has raised concerns over the deadly offensive, and analysts say a military confrontation between the two NATO powers is possible since the US has a military presence in Manbij.

Turkey launched operation “Olive Branch” against the YPG last week, supporting Syrian rebels with ground troops, airstrikes and artillery fire.

While the YPG is still working closely with Washington against the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group in Syria, Ankara views the YPG as a terror organization allied to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) inside Turkey.

The PKK is blacklisted by Ankara and its western allies as a terror outfit.

Erdogan vowed in a speech in Ankara that Turkey would “continue our fight until there is no terrorist on our border”, but did not elaborate.

He said the operation would last until “we reach our goals,” adding that “afterwards we will, as promised, clean up Manbij of terrorists.”

  US Ties Teetering on the Brink

Tensions between Ankara and Washington are already high but the offensive added further strain to their relationship. The two sides disagreed about the content of telephone talks between Erdogan and US President Donald Trump on Wednesday.

Washington said Trump had urged Turkey to “limit its military actions” but a Turkish official said the US statement did “not accurately reflect the content” of the call.

Erdogan criticized Turkey’s allies, including the United States, which he said called for the operation to be “short” and “limited” in scope, referring to previous interventions.

“How long has Afghanistan lasted? Nearly 20 years. How long has it lasted in Iraq? Nearly 18 years!” he thundered.

Washington has more than 2,000 special forces and support troops inside Syria, mainly east of the Euphrates in an area also controlled by the YPG but separate from Afrin, which is west of the river.

According to Anthony Skinner, director of Middle East and North Africa at global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, “direct military conflict” between Turkish and US forces is possible because of Erdogan’s threats to expand the campaign to Manbij.

“Turkish-US relations are teetering on the brink of a precipice,” Skinner added.

“The current bilateral crisis could, in the worst case, fully eclipse that of the 1970s,” he warned, when Washington imposed an arms embargo on Turkey in 1975 after the Turkish army invaded and occupied the northern third of Cyprus the year before.

The European Union has also expressed concern over the Turkish intervention in Syria, which is further complicating the war that has claimed more than 340,000 lives since 2011.

  Afrin Urges Syria to Intervene

Turkey continued shelling YPG positions in Afrin on Friday, state-run news agency Anadolu reported.

Erdogan said “343 terrorists have been neutralised” during the operation so far. It was not possible to independently verify the toll.

Three Turkish soldiers have been killed since the start of the offensive, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said 58 Ankara-backed Syrian rebels and 53 US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and YPG fighters had been killed.

The SDF is an umbrella grouping composed mainly of YPG fighters.

The Observatory has said 38 civilians have been killed mainly as a result of Turkish shelling but Ankara strongly rejects such claims, saying it is doing everything possible to avoid civilian casualties.

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