Jan 24 2018

Turkey’s Erdoğan says will attack Kurds in Manbij after Afrin

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said his army’s five-day-old military offensive against the northwestern Syrian enclave of Afrin would be extended to Manbij, another Kurdish-held town to the east.

Turkey and its Syrian Arab allies have hit Syrian Kurdish-held Afrin and the surrounding villages with air strikes and artillery fire since Saturday in an offensive called Operation Olive Branch.

Like Afrin, the town of Manbij is held by Syrian Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a group Turkey says is linked to Kurdish separatists fighting for more than three decades in Turkey’s southeast.

But the YPG forms the backbone of Syrian forces backed by the United States against the remnants Islamic State in the east of Syria. The ongoing U.S. support for the YPG has strained relations between NATO allies Turkey and the United States.

“With the Olive Branch operation, we have once again thwarted the game of those sneaky forces whose interests in the region are different,” Reuters quoted Erdoğan as saying in a speech in Ankara. “Starting in Manbij, we will continue to thwart their game.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Tuesday the campaign could be expanded to include Manbij and east of the River Euphrates.

“For now, Afrin is the target but in the future, we might also start an operation in Manbij and also in the eastern part of the Euphrates,” Çavuşoğlu told France 24 television in an interview in Paris.

Turkish government spokesman and Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said he did not think Turkey would come face-to-face with U.S. forces as it carries out military operations in Syria. Bozdağ said he saw only a small possibility of this happening in the Manbij area and there are no U.S. forces in Afrin.

Turkey is ready for cooperation with both the United States and Russia if that would bring peace to the region, Bozdağ added.