Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that Ankara will start from the town of Manbij in northern Syria to “thwart games” along its borders.
Manbij, controlled by US-backed Kurdish militia, is located some 100km from Afrin, where Turkey’s general staff officially declared the start of ‘Operation Olive Branch’ on Saturday.
The move follows Erdogan’s promise to “strangle” the new Border Security Force (BSF) in Syria. The US-led coalition announced earlier in January that it would help create the 30,000-strong BSF, half of which would be comprised of the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance.
Ankara’s ire has been driven by the fact that the key forces behind the SDF are the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). These are linked to the Kurdish PKK, which is considered a terrorist organization in Turkey.
“I have doubts about the humanity of those who support this organization (People’s Protection Units, also called YPG) and call Turkey an invader,” Erdogan said in a speech to local administrators in Ankara on Wednesday.
Ankara says it’s taking all necessary measures to avoid civilian casualties. “First, we will eradicate terrorists and then make the place livable for 3.5 million Syrians,” Erdogan said, as cited by Anadolu Agency.
However, the Kurds countered this statement by claiming that the operation had already claimed innocent lives. According to the Turkish president, “some 268 people were neutralized in last four days” of the operation.
Russia has expressed concern over the ongoing standoff, urging all parties to show restraint and respect the territorial integrity of Syria, while Damascus has condemned “Turkish aggression on Afrin.”