Erdoğan says Raqqa and Manbij next targets

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Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa (R) welcoming Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Bahrain on Feb. 12, 2017, in Manama. / AFP PHOTO

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Sunday that after taking control of al-Bab, Turkish troops and Free Syrian Army forces will continue on to Manbij and Raqqa in northern Syria.

“We have been trying to cleanse the region of terrorists. Al-Bab is almost finished. Manbij and Raqqa are next. Al-Bab is not our final target. Our final target is to clear the region of Daesh [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)]. The real center of Daesh is Raqqa,” Erdoğan said during a press conference at Istanbul Atatürk Airport before departing for a trip to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Erdoğan said Turkish troops and Syrian rebel allies have entered the ISIL-held al-Bab, adding that its capture was “just a matter of time.”

Manbij is under the control of Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) forces, while Raqqa is in ISIL territory.

“Our target is to create a four to five thousand-square-kilometer terrorist-free zone. By creating a safe area we want to stop the flow of refugees and asylum seekers, and by establishing settlement areas we want to return people living in camps in Turkey to their land,” added Erdoğan, stating that he has already shared Turkey’s plan to establish new cities in the area with US President Donald Trump and other coalition forces including Germany.

With the death of another soldier, Turkey has lost 72 troops since the beginning of Operation Euphrates Shield on Aug. 24 in northern Syria.

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