Erdogan Hopes Turkish Forces Will Completely Encircle Afrin by Wednesday


Turkish forces will completely encircle the Syrian town of Afrin by Wednesday night, hoped President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a speech at the presidential palace in Ankara.

His statement was clarified by a source after Erdogan was initially quoted as saying that he hoped that “Afrin will have completely fallen by the evening.”

“In the president’s speech the sentence ‘I hope that Afrin will have completely fallen by the evening’ should be understood as ‘the encirclement will have been completed by the evening’,” said a presidential source in a message to media, asking not to be named.

Erdogan had earlier stated in a speech at the presidential palace in Ankara that Afrin would fall by the evening to the Turkish army and Syrian allies, a claim rejected by the Syrian Kurds.

“We have got a little bit closer to Afrin. I hope that Afrin will, God willing, have completely fallen by the evening,” Erdogan said in the speech.

Afrin city is the key target in Turkey’s seven-week operation Olive Branch launched on January 20 and aimed at ousting the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) from the Afrin region of northern Syria.

A YPG spokesman accused Erdogan of “daydreaming” in the speech.

“This evening he will take all of Afrin?” said YPG spokesman Nouri Mahmoud. “Erdogan is lying to the people, I don’t know how this would happen.”

Mahmoud also said Ankara’s statements that civilians were being evacuated out of Afrin were false.

The Turkish army and its Syrian allies, who had been looking to complete the encirclement in a two-pronged movement from the east and the west, had Afrin city surrounded on Monday, the army said on Tuesday.

“The routes used to the east by the terrorists to enter and go out of the region will be closed today or tomorrow, God willing,” Erdogan added in the speech.

Turkey regards the YPG as a terror group and a branch of a Kurdish militant movement in Turkey that has waged an insurgency for decades.

But the YPG has been a key ally of the United States in the fight against extremists in Syria and Turkey’s operation against it has raised tensions with Ankara’s NATO allies in Washington and Europe.

Erdogan has repeatedly said that after taking Afrin, Turkey’s offensive would expand to key border towns controlled by the YPG right up to the Iraqi frontier.

These would include Kurdish-held towns such as Manbij where US forces have a presence, raising the risk of a confrontation with Turkey’s NATO ally.

“We will cleanse Manbij and then in the same way will cleanse east of the Euphrates right up to the Iraqi border,” he said.

Erdogan also raised the prospect of a cross-border operation in northern Iraq where the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a decades long struggle against the Turkish army, has its rear bases.

“We are surveying the terror nests in northern Iraq at every opportunity,” said Erdogan. “Soon we will bring these down on the heads of the terrorists in the strongest way.”

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last week that Turkey and Iraq’s central government could start a joint military operation against Kurdish groups after Iraqi parliamentary elections scheduled for May 2018.

Turkish warplanes regularly launch strikes against the PKK, which has camps in the mountains of northern Iraq, near the border with Turkey.

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