Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed that his troops would crush the US-backed Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia in Syria, saying the militant group could not rely on Washington’s support to defeat the Anatolian country.
The Turkish leader made the remarks during a speech he delivered at a congress of his ruling the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in the northwestern city of Bursa on Sunday, alleging that some of Turkey’s allies had provided 2,000 plane shipments and 5,000 truckloads of weapons to the Kurdish militia, a comment that appeared aimed at the US.
Erdogan’s comments came a day after his country launched the so-called military Operation Olive Branch in a bid to eliminate the US-backed YPG, which Ankara views as a terror organization and the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The latter has been fighting for an autonomous region inside Turkey since 1984.
The operation was launched days after Washington said it would work with the Kurdish militants to set up a 30,000-strong border force near Turkish soil, a move that infuriated Ankara.
The YPG, which is operating under the larger US-backed Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia coalition, is purportedly fighting against terrorists without obtaining any official authorization from Damascus, which calls the forces “traitors” to the Syrian nation.
“God willing, this operation will be finished in a very short time,” Erdogan further said in his televised speech, adding, “We will continue on this path like this, with determination, with belief. We will not take a step back.”
In late October last year and days after the SDF forces allegedly pushed Daesh terrorists out of the Syrian city of Raqqah, used to be Daesh’s de facto capital for a couple of years, the Syrian foreign ministry said that the city was still regarded by Damascus as a “an occupied city” and “cannot be considered liberated until the entry of the Syrian army.”
“Now I see how the PYD/PKK/YPG terror organizations run away. As I said, they will run away, (and) together with our soldiers, we will chase them away,” Erdogan promised. The Kurdistan Democratic Union Party (PYD) is considered as the YPG’s political wing.
Elsewhere in his remarks, the Turkish leader warned those who opposed Turkey’s military intervention in Syria of paying a “heavy price” for holding protest rallies, after the country’s pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) called on people to take to the streets to express their dissent against Ankara’s military move.
“Some HDP representatives are calling on my Kurdish citizens to get out into the squares. Until now, not many people have come out. But let me say this here... Do not even think about it! There will be a heavy price to pay by those who respond to this call,” Erdogan added.
Ankara also often accuses the HDP of being a political front for the PKK militant group, claims which the party firmly rejects.
“You will not be able to have a free hand. Hey HDP... hey PKK, wherever you come out, know this: our security forces will be breathing down your neck,” Erdogan vowed.
Premier: Turkey seeks 30 km-deep "safe zone" in Syria's Afrin
Earlier in the day, Turkish media quoted Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim as saying that the military forces had entered the northwestern Syrian city of Afrin from the Turkish village of Gulbaba at 0805 GMT on Sunday, the second day of the campaign, adding that troops also managed to hit over 150 Kurdish militant targets so far. However, the YPG dismissed Yildirim’s claim, saying Turkish forces had tried to enter Afrin, but were forced back.
The Turkish premier was also quoted as saying that the Turkish army aims to create a 30-kilometrer safe zone in Afrin.
Yildirim noted that Turkey's economy would not be affected by the operation in Syria's Afrin, adding that the economy would continue to grow strongly.
Cavusoglu: Opposing Turkey's Syria ops, siding with terrorists
Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused those opposing the so-called operation in Syria of siding with “terrorists”, threatening them of being treated accordingly.
The Turkish top diplomat, who was on an official trip to neighboring Iraq, further said in a press conference that Ankara expected France to support Turkey’s operation, after Paris urged Ankara to end its military operation in Syria.
25,000 FSA forces help Turkey in Afrin operations
In another development on Sunday, Major Yasser Abdul Rahim, a commander of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) anti-Damascus militia, announced that some 25,000 FSA members were joining the Turkish military operation in Syria with the goal of recapturing Arab towns and villages seized by the YPG forces.
He noted that the FSA forces would not seek to enter the YPG-held Afrin but encircle the northern city and expel the Kurdish militia.
Operation Olive Branch in the Afrin region is Turkey's second major military intervention in Syria during an unprecedented foreign-backed militancy that broke out in the Arab country in 2011.
In August 2016, Turkey began a unilateral military intervention in northern Syria, code-named Operation Euphrates Shield, sending tanks and warplanes across the border. Ankara claimed that its military campaign was aimed at pushing Daesh from Turkey's border with Syria and stopping the advance of Kurdish forces, who were themselves fighting Daesh.
Ankara terminated its military campaign in northern Syria in March 2017, but at the time did not rule out the possibility of yet another act of military offensive inside the Arab country.
Turkish air raids kill 8 people in Afrin on Sunday
Meanwhile, the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Turkish air raids had killed eight civilians in Syria’s Afrin on Sunday.
Birusk Hasakeh, a YPG spokesman in Afrin, also said, "Eight civilians were killed in missile strikes on a chicken farm where they were living," blaming Turkish warplanes for fatalities.
On Saturday, Hasakeh had told AFP that Turkish bombardment killed 10 people, including seven civilians.
Turkish police arrests protesters against Syria operations
Meanwhile, media reports say Turkish police clashed with demonstrators in Ankara and Istanbul hours after Erdogan warned Kurds in Turkey not to stage protest rallies against Turkey's military operation in Syria.
The Dogan news agency said police detained 12 demonstrators in Istanbul who were protesting the offensive.
Turkey’s police also used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse a separate protest in the capital Ankara.