Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that Turkey’s operation against Kurdish militants in northern Syria would not stop until “our objectives have been achieved.”
Turkey is in the seventh day of its assault against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which it sees as a “terrorist” offshoot of Kurdish insurgents in its own territory.
“God willing, we will quickly secure the region stretching from Manbij to our border with Iraq and ensure that, in the first stage, one million, and then two million Syrian refugees return to their homes of their own free will,” Erdogan said in a televised speech in Baku, where he was attending a regional conference.
He said 1,000 square kilometers of Syrian territory had so far been “liberated from the separatist terrorist organization.”
Turkey plans to establish a safe zone stretching across northern Syria, to which it can repatriate many of the 3.6 million refugees that it is hosting from the Syrian conflict.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday that at least 160,000 civilians have been newly displaced and that military action has already reportedly resulted in many civilian casualties.
Also Monday Syrian government troops moved into towns and villages in northeastern Syria, including the flashpoint region of Manbij, setting up a potential clash with Turkish-led forces advancing in the area as long-standing alliances in the region began to shift or crumble following the pullback of US forces.
The Syrian military’s deployment near the Turkish border came after Syrian Kurdish forces previously allied with the US said they had reached a deal with President Bashar Assad’s government to help them fend off Turkey’s invasion.
US President Donald Trump on Monday announced he would slap sanctions on Ankara as Washington demanded an end to the deadly incursion, accusing its NATO partner of putting civilians at risk and allowing the release of Islamic State extremists.
“I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path,” the US president wrote on Twitter.
The chaos caused by the Turkish assault has already led to the escape of around 800 foreign women and children linked to IS from a Kurdish-run camp, according to Kurdish authorities.
Before the invasion, Trump announced a troop pullout from northeastern Syria and ordered a couple dozen US forces out of harm’s way. Critics said Trump’s decision gave Turkey a green light to go against the Kurds, who had helped the US battle Islamic State terror group.
However, a US official said the Pentagon had begun removing all its troops in northern Syria after Trump ordered them to leave in the face of Turkey’s attacks.
Nearly 1,000 troops will vacate the country, leaving behind only a small contingent of 150 in the southern Syria base at Al Tanf, the official said.
“We are executing the order,” the official told AFP.
US Vice President Mike Pence told reporters Monday that he would be traveling urgently to Turkey at the president’s request “to pursue a ceasefire and negotiated settlement.”
Pence said the US is “simply not going to tolerate Turkey’s invasion of Syria any longer