"Today Afrin, tomorrow Manbij", Erdogan says
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for the first time since meeting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last month, addressed the issue of Syria’s northen town of Manbij, reiterating that Manbij will be Turkey's next target after the military incursion into Afrin.
‘’Today we are in Afrin, tomorrow we will be in Manbij, the day after we will be east of the Euphrates to clean up all terrorists all the way to the border of Iraq," Erdogan said in the western city of Mugla on Monday.
Turkish forces began a cross-border operation into Afrin on Jan. 20 along with Syrian Arab allies from various Free Syrian Army factions, against Kurdish fighters that Ankara says are terrorists. According to estimates, the Turkish led forces have taken about 20 percent of the northwestern enclave so far and it is becoming clear that Turkey is now preparing to attack the city of Afrin itself.
“We will hold the terrorist organization and its supporters accountable for every single one of our martyrs," Erdogan said. "We are well aware of the treacherous tricks against us. With Allah’s permission, Turkey has the power, energy and strategy to deal with all these tricks.”
On Sunday, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim promised to give Afrin back to its ‘’rightful owners.’’ His comments were understood to mean that Afrin will be handed over to Syrian Arab refugees who have fled to Turkey.
Manbij, adjacent to Afrin, has been seized from Islamic State (ISIS) fighters by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces with the help of U.S. air support. Since then, it has been administered by the Kurdish-Arab local Military Council -- a point of great contention between Turkey and the United States because Turkey says the Kurdish groups are terrorists allying with Kurdish militants in Turkey.
Tillerson appeared to have admitted during his visit to Ankara that Washington had promised to get Syrian Kurdish fighters out of Manbij once fighting with ISIS is over. Turkey considers the People's Protection Units (YPG) fighters as terrorists and organically tied to the outlawed, Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is recognized as a terrorist organization by the European Union, the United States and Turkey. The YPG are not labelled as terrorists by any major international power or European country, aside from Turkey.
On Saturday, Erdogan said that Tillerson had offered to split Manbij's security role with Turkey during the 3.5 hour meeting in Ankara. Tillerson did not confirm he made such an offer. Tillerson had no aide, note-taker or translator during the meeting and was accused of breaching protocol for being alone
Erdogan also spoke on the phone with French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday. Syria was reportedly the top agenda item.