The administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama “failed to keep its promises” to Turkey in Syria, not following up its pledge to “leave Manbij to its rightful owners,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said.
“There was an operation during Mr. Obama’s administration. That operation aimed to clear terrorists from Manbij. But he failed to keep up to his promise and cheated us,” Erdoğan said in a speech to neighborhood heads (muhtars) in Ankara on Jan. 24.
Manbij is a city in the northeast of the Aleppo Governorate in northern Syria, currently controlled by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara sees as linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
“We’ve done our part but they have not. They promised they would send the terrorists in this area to the east of the Euphrates and leave Manbij to its rightful owners. But they did not keep their promise,” Erdoğan said.
While Turkey is currently focused on the YPG-held Afrin, Ankara has not ruled out further expanding the operation.
“God willing, starting with Manbij we will continue to thwart these plans along our border and completely rid our region of this calamity,” Erdoğan said.
“There are no Kurds [in Manbij]. Ninety-five percent of it consists of Arabs. They did the same thing in [the Syrian city of] Kobane,” he added.
“Our concern is the establishment of justice, not the seizure of land,” Erdoğan said, adding that one aim of the Afrin operation is to create a safe zone to which some of the over 3 million Syrians currently in Turkey could return.
The president also claimed that the YPG has “released all ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] prisoners in Afrin on the condition that they would fight against the Turkish military and the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Erdoğan slams Germany
Meanwhile, Erdoğan also criticized Germany for “allowing PKK members to attack Turkish passengers” during a protest at the Hannover-Langenhagen Airport on Jan. 22.“
The PKK terror organization beat our brothers with sticks. And the German police just watched. What kind of security is this?” he said.
“If a passenger is not secure, what kind of state are you?” he added.
U.S. President Donald Trump was expected to speak with Erdoğan on the telephone later on Jan. 24.
Late Jan. 23 Erdoğan had spoken on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron in two separate calls. The Kremlin released a statement saying the two leaders “stressed the importance of continuing joint active work … to settle the crisis.”
During his phone call with Macron, Erdoğan underlined that Turkey’s operation in northwestern Syria’s Afrin region is being carried out “within the framework of Turkey’s rights based on international law, U.N. Security Council resolutions, its right to self-defense under the U.N. charter and respect for Syria’s territorial integrity,” Turkish diplomatic sources said.
The Netherlands had stated on Jan. 23 that there “have been enough signs” for Turkey to launch “Operation Olive Branch in Syria’s Afrin in self-defense and in order to protect its borders.
Responding to Dutch Parliament members about the ongoing Turkish operation in Afrin, Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra said the operation “should not be seen as Turkish-Kurdish conflict” and the YPG was not “innocent.”
Turkey to work with US ‘if it ends support for YPG’
Presidential Spokesperson İbrahim Kalın told private broadcaster CNN Türk on Jan. 23 that Turkey will cooperate with the U.S. in Syria only if Washington ends its support to the YPG and takes back the arms it has provided to the group.
“Then we can talk about the future of Syria with them,” Kalın.
Kalın also denied suggestions that Turkey negotiated a “give and take” deal with Russia, offering control over Idlib province in return for control over Afrin.
“There is no such undercover negotiation,” he said.
Speaking to CNN International on Jan. 24, Kalın said the YPG had carried out “nearly 700 attacks on Turkish territory” from the Afrin region since last year.