Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Operation Olive Branch in Afrin in northwestern Syria will extend to Idlib. Senior US commanders in Manbij say their troops will stay in the area despite Turkish demands that they leave.
Turkey’s president said on Tuesday that the current military operation in northern Syria will extend from Afrin to Idlib.
"The operation in Afrin will resolutely continue, and an Idlib operation will follow it," Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the parliamentary group meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party.
Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch in Afrin in January to clear the border region of YPG/PKK and create a buffer zone. Ankara has long objected to US support for the YPG which it considers to be the Syrian branch of the PKK, a group which has taken thousands of lives in Turkey.
Over the issue of when the operation would end, Erdogan referred to years-long US and NATO missions in the region, said: "When have you ended your operations in Afghanistan or Iraq? You’re still there."
Erdogan also criticised the US stance, saying former president Barack Obama had spoken untruthfully on Syria. Incumbent US President Donald Trump “is the same way."
The Turkish president said the US promised Turkey it would leave Syria's Manbij region, but instead, it helped terrorists there.
Turkey calls for US to cooperate
Erdogan called on the US to cooperate with its NATO ally Turkey in the region. "Our fight is just against terrorist groups."
"They tell us, 'Don’t come to Manbij.' We will come to Manbij to hand over these territories to their rightful owners," Erdogan said.
"The US says that they have cleared Daesh” from Syria, said Erdogan. “Why are you still here?" he asked the US.
US says troops to stay in Manbij
Senior US commanders meanwhile have pledged that their troops will remain in the northern Syrian town of Manbij despite Turkey's demands for a US pullout.
"I can't speak to Turkey's intentions. What I do know is that our presence here has enabled this area to be stable. So our senior leadership, Secretary [of State Rex] Tillerson has laid out our end-state for Syria most recently, and so we need to stay here until that political environment is stable and our security here, our presence here provides that level of stabilisation and brings security," said Maj. Gen. Jamie Jarrard, US Army special forces, visiting an SDF military outpost in northern Syria on Wednesday.
The US-backed opposition Syrian Democratic Forces are dominated by the YPG. They liberated Manbij from Daesh in 2016.
Since the ouster of Daesh from the border town, the US has maintained a military presence there — a cluster of a handful of tents, prefab housing units and American armoured vehicles — and regularly conducts patrols in the area.