Erdoğan anticipates Syria’s Manbij to be “cleared of terrorists” soon

Turkey expects Syria's northern Manbij region to be clear of “terrorists“ as soon as possible and will soon deal “a heavy blow” to Kurdish militants in the region, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Monday.

“As promised, we expect Manbij to be cleared of terrorists as soon as possible and its administration to be left to local people,” state-run Anadolu News Agency quoted the Turkish president as saying.

Ankara in December announced plans for a third military operation into neighbouring Syria, following two similar operations since 2016. Plans for a cross-border incursion were placed on hold following Washington’s announcement of its plans to withdraw U.S. troops from the region.

“In this region, only those who do not stand against Turkey but side with it will win,” Erdoğan said in an apparent reference to northern Syria.

Turkey and the U.S. signed a deal in June 2018, focusing on the withdrawal of the U.S.-backed Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) militants from Manbij to stabilize the region.

Ankara sees the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group at war in Turkey for over three decades, and has vowed to destroy it.

Erdoğan took a jab at countries "thousands of kilometres away" yet planning to mount a military operation in Syria, noting that Turkey is “under threat at any moment.”

"What kind of NATO alliance is this?” Erdoğan asked, in apparent reference to the United States, adding, “You give terrorists around 23,000 truckloads of weapons and tools through Iraq but when we asked, you won’t even sell them to us.”

Ankara has repeatedly criticized Washington for supplying weapons to the YPG, which has been at the forefront of the U.S. war on the Islamic State (ISIS) in the region.

Erdoğan also talked about Turkey's planned purchase of S-400 Russian air defence systems. On the eve of the NATO summit in Munich last week, the U.S. permanent representative to NATO Kay Hutchinson once again issued a serious warning to Ankara against refraining from the purchase of the systems. Turkey is currently slated to receive over 100 new generation of F-35 fighter jets from the U.S. over the next few years, however the U.S. Congress is angling to block the transfer of these jets unless Ankara gives up on the S-400s.

"They tell us to give up on purchasing S-400s. Why should we give up on that? You still refuse to steps to provide us these systems (Western weapon systems) along with technology transfers, co-production condition and financing support. Furthermore, we have a right to use various weapon systems. NATO officials had already stated clearly that [our purchase of these systems] does not create any obstacle. You do not object to Greece who, as a NATO member, has possessed Russian S-300s for years. But you are saying this to Turkey," Erdoğan said. 

February 18th, Monday when Erdogan repeated his conditions for giving up on S-400 was two days after an informal deadline Washington set for Ankara to respond to a rival offer.

Erdogan has accused NATO allies of supporting "terrorists" with thousands of truckloads of weapons while ignoring Turkey's request to buy their arms, according to Al Jazeera.

"What kind of NATO alliance is this?" Erdogan said on Monday during an election campaign rally in southwestern Turkey's Burdur region.

"You give terrorists around 23,000 truckloads of weapons and tools through Iraq, but when we asked, you won't even sell them to us," he added. 

"We have a 911-kilometre border [with Syria]. We're under threat at any moment."

Erdogan did not specify which nations were allegedly supplying arms through Iraq.