Erdoğan rounds on Pentagon spokesman over Afrin

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rounded on a Pentagon spokesman for remarks criticizing Turkey’s operations in Syria's Afrin, in a latest outburst against the United States.

In a statement to Al Hurra television this week, spokesman Adrian Rankine-Galloway reiterated concerns about Turkey’s incursion into the Kurdish-controlled area, saying more needed to be done to reduce civilian casualties and to fight Islamic State (ISIS)..

“The thing that upsets us the most is the sanctimony and unseriousness of some of our partners, of some countries with which we have very deep political and military relations,” Erdoğan said in a speech at his ruling party’s headquarters in Ankara on Friday. In particular, Turkey was concerned about criticism that focused on the humanitarian element of the operation, he said.

Erdoğan said Washington was demonstrating double standards, ignoring atrocities elsewhere in Syria while criticising Turkey’s struggle against terrorism in Afrin. His government said this week that no civilians had been killed or injured in the operation, though more than 1,800 terrorists had been "neutralised".

Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White also expressed U.S. concerns about Turkey’s military campaign in comments on Thursday, saying “that the common threat is ISIS and that fight is not over”.

Turkey has been criticised in the past by Western media and observers for not doing enough to tackle ISIS in Syria and allowing its fighters to pass to and fro over its border with the country. Concern has also been expressed about Turkey’s partners in the military operation in Afrin, the Free Syrian Army, which contains Sunni jihadist groups. Turkey says it is doing more to battle ISIS than any other country.

Erdoğan said this week that Turkey would lay siege to Afrin city in the coming days to root out what he calls terrorists and restore peace and stability to the region. Turkey says the Kurdish forces have altered the demography of northern Syria at the expense of other ethnic groups.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held meetings with Erdoğan in Ankara. The two sides agreed to normalise ties and set up working groups in March to iron out their differences.

Turkey has slammed the United States for training and equipping Syrian Kurdish forces for the fight against ISIS, saying they are indistinguishable from autonomy-seeking Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants in Turkey, labelled as terrorists by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Erdoğan also repeated a pledge on Friday to enter Manbij, where hundreds of U.S. troops are working with the Kurds. His threats over Manbij have deepened political tensions with Washington.

“Our heroic soldiers are fighting selflessly and courageously, moving toward Afrin step by step by destroying the fortifications the separatist terrorist organisation has carefully prepared for attacks against Turkey,” he said.

“We will first clear Manbij from terrorists, and then will continue on our way until we make all of the west of the Euphrates safe for us and our Syrian brothers.”