Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed over the weekend to launch new military operations in Syria similar to its previous offensives that targeted U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters he considers to be terrorists.
Reuters quotes Erdogan as telling thousands of supporters in Istanbul on Sunday that Turkey’s offensives near its southern border with Syria against Kurds and to a lesser extent the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) would continue “until not a single terrorist is left.”
We will not give up on constricting terrorist organizations. In the new period, Turkey will add new ones to the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations in order to clear its borders.
We shattered the terror corridor being formed on our southern border with these operations. Our soldiers, who lastly wrote an epic in Afrin, are ready for new missions.
Ankara has threatened to expand its Afrin offensive further east into Manbij, risking a confrontation with U.S. troops stationed there and their Kurdish allies.
Erdogan’s comments on Sunday came a day after the Turkish military announced that it has “neutralized” 4,403 so-called “terrorists” since the start of its operation in Afrin back in mid-January, implying that the fighters in question “either surrendered or were killed or captured,” the state-owned Anadolu Agency (AA) reports.
Since the Syrian civil war started, Turkey has launched two major operations against Kurdish fighters, and ISIS jihadists near its border with Syria — the ongoing Operation Olive Branch in Afrin and Euphrates Shield completed further east in early 2017.
Human rights groups and activists have accused Turkey of “ethnic cleansing” and other war crimes against the U.S.-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) that controls swaths of northern Syria.
In Afrin, Turkey-allied al-Qaeda fighters reportedly took advantage of Operation Olive Branch to massacre members of the Christian and Yazidi religious minority groups.
Ankara has also granted an al-Qaeda-linked group police powers in Afrin, including the authority to impose strict Islamic law on the residents, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights recently warned.
Operation Olive Branch targeted the YPG, which Ankara considers an affiliate of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a terrorist group known to attack Turkish soil.
In Syria’s Manbij, Turkey is locked in a standoff with U.S. troops and their Kurdish allies.
However, Reuters reports:
Ankara and Washington have reached an understanding on a roadmap in Manbij in which the [Kurdish] militants will leave the area, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Sunday, adding that the details were being discussed with the new U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.
The United States has been accused of abandoning its Kurdish YPG allies in Syria to appease Turkey.
Turkey has also threatened to expand its operations against PKK terrorists into northern Iraq.
“Cavusoglu said the operation was still on the agenda,” Reuters notes.