Press TV – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his country’s troops will enter Syria’s northern city of Afrin “at any moment,” less than two months after Ankara launched a full-scale cross-border offensive into the Arab country in a declared bid to eliminate the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militants.
“Now our objective is Afrin… As of now, we have Afrin encircled. We can enter Afrin at any moment, God willing,” the Turkish leader told his ruling Justice and Development Party in the capital Ankara on Friday, a day after Turkish army soldiers took control of the strategic town of Jandairis west of Afrin.
“The operations in Afrin will continue until this swamp of terror is dried,” Erdogan warned.
The Turkish president’s comments depict the country’s increasing confidence to press its military operation against the Kurdish militants in the Afrin region to a successful conclusion after some 50 days of intense fighting.
Ankara, which has been waging the so-called Operation Olive Branch against the YPG forces in flashpoint region since January 20, has already said the offensive could extend to Manbij and beyond.
The military intervention came after the US said it would set up a 30,000-strong militant border force at Turkish doorstep. Ankara is wary of the presence of Kurdish militants close to its borders in Syria, and has been opposed to Washington’s efforts to train and arm them in the Arab country.
Earlier this month, Erdogan accused US President Donald Trump and his predecessor Barack Obama of failing to tell the truth over US support for the YPG. The Turkish leader had earlier alleged that the YPG is trying to establish a “terror corridor” on Turkey’s southern border, linking Syria’s northern city of Afrin with a large Kurdish-controlled area to the east.
“The entire [area] is 2,000 square kilometer. We will take the entire area under control in the first phase and send our brothers from Afrin back to their lands,” Erdogan further said, adding that the Turkish troops had already “made safe” an area extending to 815 square kilometers.
The Turkish leader also stated that 3,171 YPG militants had been “neutralized” since the beginning of the operation. Turkish authorities often use the word “neutralized” to imply the terrorists in question either surrendered or were killed or captured.
Ankara views the YPG as the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group that has been fighting for an autonomous region inside Turkey since 1984.
Erdogan has repeatedly said that Afrin should be cleared of “terrorists,” and demanded the deployment of Turkish troops there during a speech back in November 2016.
This is while US officials regard the YPG as the most effective fighting force against the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group in northern Syria, and have substantially increased their weaponry and technology support to the group.
The Syrian government has already condemned the Turkish offensive against Afrin, rejecting Ankara’s claim about having informed Damascus of the operation.
Operation Olive Branch is Turkey’s second major military intervention in Syria during the unprecedented foreign-backed militancy that broke out 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 the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group from Turkey’s border with Syria and stopping the advance of Kurdish militia, who were themselves fighting Daesh.
Turkey ended its campaign in northern Syria in March 2017 but at the time did not rule out the possibility of yet another military offensive inside the Arab country.