By Hamdi Celikbas
ANKARA (AA) – Turkey’s president said late Tuesday that Ankara was pressured to halt its counterterror operation in northern Syria but was not worried over sanctions as the government was determined to eliminate the terror corridor near its borders.
Speaking on his way home from the 7th Summit of the Turkic Council in Baku, Azerbaijan, Recep Tayyip Erdogan touched on a variety of subjects such as Turkey’s ongoing anti-terror operation in northern Syria, the YPG/PKK terror group’s mortar attacks in Turkey’s southern provinces and upcoming meetings with U.S. officials.
“They pressure us to halt the operation, announce sanctions,” he said, referring to Western countries.
“Our goal is clear. We are not worried over any sanctions,” Erdogan asserted, adding the YPG/PKK was losing ground as Operation Peace Spring continued with success.
He stressed that the U.S. urged Turkey to declare a ceasefire so it could act as a mediator between the conflicting parties, but he rejected this offer, as Turkey would not “sit down at the table with terror groups.”
Erdogan went on to say that U.S. mediation between Turkey and the YPG/PKK terror group would not be reasonable in terms of political science and war law.
Emphasizing that Turkey would maintain its operation until the area was cleared of terror elements, he said the territory would be given back to its true owners – Syrians – once the operation concluded.
“We are on the seventh day of Operation Peace Spring. It continues with success as planned. We secured Ayn al-Arab on the fourth day and Tal Abyad on the fifth day by purging terrorists. Today, we have reached a 32-kilometer depth. We have control over the M4 highway,” he said.
The president said a total of 611 terrorists had been neutralized so far, with 556 of them killed, whereas the Turkish army and the Syrian National Army (SNA) have had four and 32 martyrs respectively.
He underlined that the U.S., Russia, the European Union and NATO were briefed on Turkey’s actions and goals regarding the ongoing operation and added that Turkey’s operational success in northern Syria went beyond foreign countries’ expectations as Turkey secured a significant portion of northern Syria within a week.
“Our goal is clear: cleaning our borders of any terror elements and ensuring the safe return of the refugees…The operation will continue until the goals are achieved,” he added.
Erdogan said the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) exercised great caution so they would not harm civilians, unlike the anti-Daesh coalition and the YPG/PKK’s operation in Mosul, Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor provinces, where thousands of civilians were killed.
“Unfortunately, the Western countries always ignored [civilian losses] and never talked about these. Now, they are trying to pressure us. Our operation had and has been against the terror groups,” he said.
While Turkey is ultra-sensitive with civilians, the YPG/PKK terror group pursues a completely opposite policy as it has targeted southern Turkish provinces with some 700 mortar rounds that killed 18 civilians, including an infant, according to Erdogan
He said some people argued that the operation was against the Kurdish population and targeted civilians, that it would undermine the fight against Daesh terrorists and pave the way for destabilization, but these are baseless arguments actually sought to protect YPG/PKK terrorists.
"Our goal is clear: it is to make terrorists leave the 32-kilometer-long territory, and this [operational] line is secured by us, from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border."
- Manbij and regime
Erdogan said the Bashar al-Assad regime's entrance into Manbij province was not really negative for him, as the territory fell under Syrian sovereignty. But he added that the area must be rid of YPG/PKK terrorists and the local population is mostly comprised of Arabs, and some of the Arab tribes urged Turkey to "save them."
He pointed out that one of the Turkish soldiers lost his life in Manbij following regime attacks and the TAF responded with heavy artillery fire that “made the regime pay.”
- Ayn al-Arab and Turkish operation
Erdogan criticized the former U.S. administration of Barrack Obama for not being sincere in its policy in Ayn al-Arab, also known as Kobani, and stressed that Turkey had welcomed some 300,000 Kurdish irregular migrants who abandoned their homes due to terrorism a few years back but Western media outlets never mentioned this fact and depicted Turkey as murderers of the Kurdish people.
He added that U.S. President Donald Trump urged Turkey "not to hit" Ayn al-Arab and Turkey only engaged in a containment operation in the territory but it could intervene if there was a "different development."
He stressed that Ankara did not want to target Kurdish people or civilians but sought to secure Ayn al-Arab, adding the anti-terror operation would contribute to the political solution process in Syria.
When asked whether Ayn al-Arab was included in the safe zone plans, he responded: "Of course. Because it has a strategic importance due to its past. They [YPG/PKK] hit us from there."
- Sanctions on military equipment
"Turkey is now a self-sufficient country," he said, adding the country is currently able to meet 70% of its needs through its own defense industry.
Recalling when Turkey purchased Russia’s S-400 missile system after the U.S. rejected selling it its Patriot defense system, he said: "There is no more desperation...You can buy anything from anywhere."
Erdogan went on to slam the European countries that suspended arms exports to Turkey and said Turkey was already offered alternative options.
- YPG/PKK’s release of Daesh prisoners
The Turkish leader said he discussed the fate of Daesh prisoners held by the YPG/PKK over the phone with Trump and said Turkey could take responsibility for them, but the YPG/PKK immediately released Daesh prisoners.
He added that Turkey could assume responsibility for Daesh terrorists imprisoned across northern Syria and might send foreign fighters back to their countries.
- Hypocrisy of YPG/PKK
"The terror group that acted together with the U.S. until now is trying to reach an agreement with the [Syrian] regime. Those Western countries calling this terror group an ally should think about this."
"Who is your true ally?" Erdogan asked Western countries. "Is it the YPG/PKK or Daesh? Now, we can ask about Daesh as well," he said, as Western countries turned a blind eye to the YPG/PKK's release of Daesh terrorists.
Erdogan stressed that the Turkish army battled Daesh terrorists and over 3,000 of them were killed in the 2016 northern offensive in the Syrian town of al-Bab alone.
- Adana Agreement
Erdogan stressed that Turkey's fight against terrorism in Syria was based on the Adana Agreement and all NATO members should stand with Turkey in line with Article 5 of the NATO treaty.
The Adana Agreement was signed in 1998 and allows Turkish forces to conduct military operations in Syria.
- Majority of Turkish opposition supports operation
The Republican People's Party (CHP), Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and Iyi Party (IP) support the counterterror operation against the YPG/PKK, said Erdogan.
He added that Defense Minister Hulusi Akar briefed all these parties regarding the latest developments of the operation and thanked them for their national solidarity.
The Turkish leader said U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and an accompanying delegation would visit Turkey to discuss the latest developments regarding the counterterror operation.
"I wish that tomorrow's talks will bode well for us," he said, adding Turkey was also closely in touch with Russian officials.
Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring on Oct. 9 to eliminate terrorists from northern Syria in order to secure Turkey’s borders, aid in the safe return of Syrian refugees and ensure Syria’s territorial integrity.
Ankara wants to clear northern Syria east of the Euphrates of the terrorist PKK and its Syrian offshoot, the PYD/YPG.
In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK -- listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union -- has been responsible for deaths of 40,000 people, including women, children and infants.
*Writing by Ali Murat Alhas