Turkish FM: US statements will not delay Afrin operation

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Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (Abdulhamid Hosbas / Anadolu Agency)

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on Thursday said recent statements from the US concerning the creation of a conventional border guard in Syria would not delay Turkey’s planned operation against the Kurdish-controlled Afrin region of Syria.

“The US statement is not fully satisfactory. The US promised to get its weapons back [from Kurdish militant groups in Syria]. The promise must be kept,” Çavuşoğlu told CNN Türk.

“Russian observers in the region [Afrin] should not be harmed. We work with Russia. We have to be in coordination in such a case [the operation against Afrin],” Çavuşoğlu said when asked about a visit by Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar and National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Undersecretary Hakan Fidan to Moscow.

The Turkish minister also said Turkey was engaged in talks with Russia and Iran over the use of Syrian airspace for the operation against Afrin.

The Pentagon said on Wednesday it was not creating a new army or a conventional border guard in Syria after Turkey reacted with outrage to US plans to train fighters including Syrian Kurds on internal security.

“The U.S. continues to train local security forces in Syria. The training is designed to enhance security for displaced persons returning to their devastated communities,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

”It is also essential so that ISIS cannot reemerge in liberated and ungoverned areas. This is not a new ‘army’ or conventional ‘border guard’ force,” it said.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also indicated on Wednesday that the US takes Turkey’s concerns regarding Syria “seriously” and said Ankara’s cooperation was necessary to secure a new future for the war-torn country.

The statements came while Turkish military was deploying forces on the border for an operation against Afrin, which is controlled by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday said Turkey would destroy a border security force planned by the US.

Turkish security forces on Saturday hit several PYD targets in Afrin following remarks made by Erdoğan, who said Turkey would carry out a military operation in Syria’s Afrin and Manbij regions “if the terrorists do not pull out in one week.”

Turkey views the PYD as the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The Turkish military on Oct. 9 launched surveillance and reconnaissance operations in the northwestern Syrian province of İdlib as part of the multinational “Tension Reduction Control Force.”

President Erdoğan on Oct. 24 said Turkey had to a great extent completed its operation in Idlib, indicating that Afrin would be the next target.

Turkey with Free Syrian Army forces took control of the Jarablus and Al Bab areas in northern Syria during an operation against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants between August 2016 and March 2017.

More than 70 soldiers were lost during Operation Euphrates Shield, which was evaluated as a strategic move to prevent unification of areas controlled by the Kurdish PYD.

Erdoğan on Oct. 8 said Turkey would not allow a Kurdish corridor in Syria extending along the Turkish border to the Mediterranean while assessing Turkish military operations in Idlib.

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