Erdogan pushes on with ‘Euphrates Shield’ operation in northern Syria, despite US and Iraqi reservations
Iraqis hold crossed-out portraits of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a December 2015 demonstration to demand the withdrawal of Turkish forces from Iraq. (AFP/Ahmad Al-Rubaye)
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reiterated his call for a "terror-free zone" in the northern part of war-torn Syria on Saturday. He asserted that Turkey had a "goal" of forming "a 5,000-square-kilometer terror-free zone" surrounding Raqqa.
Backed by Turkish tanks, special forces and air strikes, a group of rebels fighting under the loose banner of the Free Syrian Army will press on to the Daesh-held town of Al Bab in Syria, Erdogan said, emphasizing Ankara's drive to sweep militants and Syrian Kurdish fighters from territory near its border.
While Turkish officials have affirmed they will play a role in the ultimate liberation of Raqqa, they have insisted that they will not do so if the US and other coalition parties insist on the Syrian Kurdish Peoples' Protection Units (YPG) also being part of that coalition.
"They say, 'Don't go to al-Bab'. We are obliged to, we will go there," Erdogan said in a speech at the opening of an education center in the northwest province of Bursa.
"We have to prepare a region cleansed from terror," he said referring to Turkey's ongoing military operation called "Euphrates Shield."
Notably, Erdogan identifies not just Daesh as an extremist group, but the YPG, as well.
Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim says Turkey is ready to "take measures" in northern Iraq because Ankara is not satisfied with promises from the United States and Baghdad about the role of Kurdish militants and Shia militia fighters in the battle for Mosul.
Yildrim criticized Iraq's leadership, saying it was "being provocative" with recent comments and said Ankara will continue to have a presence in Iraq.
On the other hand, Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu warned that Turkey would "do what is necessary" if the PKK/PYD did not retreat and continued to attack the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army, which has launched Operation Euphrates Shield in August to clear Daesh from the region on Turkey's southern border.
By Said Abdul Razzak
- Iraqi troops move toward Daesh encampment near Euphrates River
- Iraqi forces push into outskirts of Daesh-held Tikrit
- Daesh torches oil field as Iraqi army pushes Mosul offensive forward
- While Ankara and Baghdad squabble, Kurdish forces repel Daesh attacks in northern Iraq
- Turkey’s stability in the region is at risk