The Turkish operation in Afrin will be completed by May, after which the military may look to move into Iraq, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced yesterday, according to state news agency TRT World.
Speaking at a joint news conference with his Austrian counterpart Karin Kneissl, Cavusoglu told reporters in Vienna that Turkey wanted the operation to end as quickly as possible so that Afrin can “embrace stability and civilians can return”.
He went on to suggest that following the country’s parliamentary elections in May, Turkish troops may move to northern Iraq to continue the offensive against troops allied to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The PKK is a designated terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. Ankara considers the YPG to be a Syrian extension of the PKK, who form the majority of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The US proposal to establish a permanent 30,000 strong force on the Turkish-Syrian border prompted the military offensive “Operation Olive Branch” to launch in the north of Syria earlier this year.
When questioned as to what would happen if the Afrin operation did not end by May, Cavusoglu assured that Turkey was capable of conducting two campaigns simultaneously.
The latest announcement comes amid reports of numerous gains made by the Turkish military and allied Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces, with the government stating that over 3,000 YPG fighters have been neutralised since the beginning of the operation.
Yesterday Turkish soldiers captured the strategically significant area of Jinderes Hill after heavy clashes with the Kurdish militia. So far the operation is believed to have taken control of captured 157 locations, including five town centres, 122 villages, 30 strategic areas, and one YPG base.
Tensions between the US and Turkey has escalated as a result of the operation, with Ankara accusing Washington of leaving pockets of Daesh militants in Syria intact to justify continued cooperation with Kurdish forces in the country.
Turkish public opinion in favour of the US is low according to a poll published yesterday by the Centre for American Progress, which found 83 per cent of Turks view America unfavourably and 46 per cent believe the country should do more to confront it.