Turkey’s next target after Al-Bab’s liberation is the Syrian town of Manbij, and it is crucial to clear the Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) Syrian-offshoot the Democratic Union Party (PYD) from the area, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Arab media yesterday.
In an interview with Saudi-owned news channel Al Arabiya, Erdogan said that the PKK’s Syrian-offshoots, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the PYD, which are still in Manbij, need to be cleared as soon as possible because the area is demographically dominated by Arabs.
“We’ve told the Obama administration before that Manbij needs to be handed over to the Arabs and they told us that the PYD/YPG was leaving, but unfortunately they never left,” Erdogan said and added that after Manbij, Raqqa would be the only major Daesh stronghold in Syria.
Daesh still have a strong presence in other areas of Syria, including areas around Deir ez-Zor and the historical city of Palmyra.
Ankara considers the YPG a terror group, an offshoot of the outlawed PKK, which is itself listed as a terrorist organisation by the US, Turkey and the EU. Turkey has voiced concerns over the YPG moving into Manbij, which has a predominantly Arab population. Turkey has also warned against YPG’s aim of making demographic changes in areas captured from Daesh.
Meanwhile, the YPG’s presence has become a matter of political friction between Ankara and Washington. Ankara argues that US support to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), predominantly led by Kurdish militants, is eventually transferred to the PKK and ultimately used against Turkey.
The PKK launched a violent separatist campaign in the 1980s, aiming to carve an exclusively Kurdish de facto state in Turkey’s southeast that has since killed 40,000 people, mostly civilians.
Last year, Turkey launched Operation Euphrates Shield to clear the towns of Jarablus, Al-Rai and Al-Bab from Daesh, while preventing the YPG from extending its control over these towns and providing a backdoor for PKK militants to plan attacks in Turkey from Syria.
Erdogan highlighted that, in Raqqa, Turkey would cooperate with the US-backed coalition forces to liberate the town from Daesh, which would ensure peace in the region, according to the Turkish president.
Erdogan continued by saying that the support of Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia is crucial to handle the ongoing crisis in the region, as he emphasised that millions of refugees had fled their homeland. In this regard, he reiterated the importance of creating a “terror-free zone” between Jarablus and Al-Rai in northern Syria, where local forces could be trained and equipped.
“I discussed this issue with my Saudi friends, US and EU officials,” Erdogan said, adding that he suggested the safe zone could also provide opportunities for people to safely return to Syria.
The president said that Turkey’s fight against Daesh will continue “with determination” and that Turkey will never allow the PYD/YPG to establish a state in northern Syria.