Erdoğan slams US, says Manbij next target

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This handout picture taken and released on January 25, 2018 shows President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan (3R) adressing soldiers during his visit to Operating Base in Hatay on the sixth day of 'Operation Olive Branch'. / AFP PHOTO

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday reacted to calls from the US to wrap up an operation in the Afrin region of Syria, defying Washington and saying that Manbij will be the next target, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

“It [the operation] is in its seventh day. How long did it take in Afghanistan? Around 20 years. How long in Iraq? About 18 years, and you are still there. Libya, Mali, Rwanda, how long did they take?” said Erdoğan during a meeting in Ankara of ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) provincial heads.

“Why do you rush when Turkey is the subject?” he asked, reacting to calls from the West that Turkey end the operation as soon as possible.

Erdoğan said: “We are not occupying Afrin. On the contrary, we are trying to make it a livable place for the real owners while clearing the terrorists out of there.”

Strongly criticizing the US’s relations with the outlawed the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), Erdoğan shared the content of his phone call with US President Donald Trump on Wednesday. “Mr. President [Trump] says ‘Do not criticize us so much.’ OK, but if we are strategic partners, how can such a thing be done to a strategic partner?”

Rebuffing calls from Washington that Turkey not expand its operations to the Syrian city of Manbij, which is controlled by Kurdish militias, Erdoğan continued: “Operation Olive Branch will continue until it achieves its goals. After that, we will cleanse Manbij of terrorists as we promised before. Nobody should be disturbed by this because the real owners of Manbij are not terrorists but our Arab brothers living there.”

“After that we will continue until no terrorists exist all the way to the Iraqi border.”

Turkey on Jan. 20 launched Operation Olive Branch in Syria’s Afrin region, which is controlled by the PYD.

President Erdoğan on Oct. 8 said Turkey would not allow a Kurdish corridor in Syria extending along the Turkish border to the Mediterranean.

At least 343 PKK, PYD and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant [ISIL] terrorists have been “neutralized” since the beginning of Operation Olive Branch in the northwestern Afrin region of Syria, the military stated on Friday.

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