Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkish forces and allied rebels could enter the centre of the Kurdish-held Syrian town of Afrin “at any moment”, days after capturing another strategic town.
The comments reflected Turkey’s increasing confidence of pressing its operation against Kurdish militia in the Afrin region of northern Syria to a successful conclusion after seven weeks of fighting.
“Now our objective is Afrin … As of now, we have Afrin encircled. We can enter Afrin at any moment, God willing,” Erdogan told his ruling AKP party in Ankara, after Turkish forces took control of the town of Jandairis west of Afrin on Thursday March 8.
“The operations in Afrin will continue until this swamp of terror is dried,” he warned.
Ankara on Jan 20 launched operation “Olive Branch” in the Afrin region of northern Syria against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, who control the area but Turkey regards as a terror group.
Despite encountering fierce resistance – which has caused the death of 42 Turkish troops – Turkey’s military and its Syrian allies appear to have gained new momentum in the last weeks.
The capture of Jandairis – one of the key centres in the region other than Afrin itself – was seen by analysts as giving Ankara a clear path towards its main target.
Turkish state media said Turkey’s advance continued on Friday, with the forces now on the edge of the Afrin municipal district.
It said they had also taken control of the Afrin Dam – also known as the 17 April Dam – which stores water and provides some hydroelectric power.
Graphics published by state media show that the Turkish forces are seeking to encircle Afrin in a two-pronged pincer movement from the northeast and southwest, though they have yet to fully surround it.
‘TODAY AFRIN, TOMORROW MANBIJ’
The operation has ratcheted up tensions with the United States, pitting Turkey’s army against a militia force allied with its fellow NATO member in the battle against Daesh militants.
Erdogan also reaffirmed his previous vows that Turkey would not limit itself to clearing the Afrin region of the YPG, saying it wanted to carry on to the town of Manbij to the east and then to the Iraqi border.
“Today we are in Afrin and tomorrow we will be in Manbij. And the next day we will ensure that terrorists are cleared east of the Euphrates River up to the Iraqi border,” he said.
Manbij is regarded as a particularly delicate issue as the United States – unlike in Afrin – has a presence there, raising the prospect of a direct clash with Turkey.
On a visit to Ankara last month, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that Turkey and the US had to solve the tensions surrounding Manbij as a “priority”.
Turkey sees the YPG as the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has battled the Turkish state in an over three decade long insurgency. The United States and the European Union see the PKK as a terror group but do not label the YPG with the term.
Source: NAM News Network