Posts Tagged ‘President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’

Trump Talks To Turkey’s President Erdogan

March 23, 2018

President Donald J. Trump spoke today with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey to reaffirm the importance of strong relations between the United States and Turkey, as NATO Allies and strategic partners, and to exchange views on regional developments.  The two leaders committed to continue efforts to intensify cooperation on shared strategic challenges and to address the concerns of both countries that affect the bilateral relations.


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The Hill

President Donald Trump spoke Thursday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as the two countries attempt to negotiate differences over how to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The two leaders discussed the importance of strong relations between the U.S. and Turkey, and committed to “continue efforts to intensify cooperation on shared strategic challenges,” according to a White House readout of their phone call.

The U.S. said Monday it is “deeply concerned” over reports that Turkish military forces seized the city of Afrin, Syria, from Kurdish forces. Erdoğan said Turkey will push forward with its own offensive in northern Syria.

Its strategy puts it at odds with the U.S., which has backed the Kurdish forces in Syria in their fight against ISIS. Turkey considers the Kurdish groups to be terrorists.
The Pentagon said it had been in “close contact” with Turkey to discuss how to move forward in the fight against ISIS.

Thursday’s phone call came just hours after charges were dropped against 11 members of Erdoğan’s security detail who were accused of beating protesters in Washington, D.C., last year.

Chaos broke out last May after roughly two dozen protesters gathered near the Turkish Embassy to protest Erdoğan’s policies during his visit to Washington. The embassy claimed the security detail was acting in “self-defense,” while local police said the protesters were demonstrating peacefully.

Police originally charged 16 people in connection with the incident.



Turkey says will lay siege to Syria’s Afrin ‘in coming days’

February 20, 2018


© AFP/File / by Raziye Akkoc | Ankara’s military operation is targeting the Kurdish YPG militia in and around Afrin, a town in northern Syria


President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday said Turkish forces would soon besiege the town of Afrin as a Turkish cross-border offensive targeting a Kurdish militia enters its second month.

On January 20, Ankara launched an air and ground operation supporting Syrian rebels against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the Afrin region of northern Syria.

Turkey views the YPG as a Syrian offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.

“In the coming days, swiftly, we will lay siege to the centre of the town of Afrin,” Erdogan told parliament.

While some analysts say Turkey and pro-Ankara Syrian rebels have made slow advances, Erdogan defended the operation’s progress, saying it was to avoid putting the lives of both its troops and civilians needlessly “at risk”.

“We did not go there to burn it down,” he said, insisting the operation’s aim was to “create a safe and livable area” for Syrian refugees inside Turkey, who fled across the border after the conflict began in 2011 and who now number more than three million.

The Turkish army says 32 of its troops have been killed in the process.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor, Syrian rebels and Turkish forces have taken 35 villages since the start of the operation, most of them bordering Afrin.

And Turkish security expert Abdullah Agar said troops involved in operation “Olive Branch” had captured around 300 square kilometres (120 square miles) of territory.

Over the past month, 238 Olive Branch fighters — among them both Turkish soldiers and Syrian rebels — have been killed, along with 197 YPG fighters and 94 civilians, Observatory figures show.

Ankara strongly denies there have been any civilian casualties.

– Warning Damascus –

Jana Jabbour, a political science professor at Sciences Po university in Paris, said the Turks were “struggling to move forward” because of the “organisation of the Kurdish YPG forces and their combativeness”.

She said it was important to distinguish between political rhetoric, “even political propaganda”, and the reality on the ground.

On the ground, Turkish fighting was now focused around the area of Arab Wiran in northeast Afrin, the Observatory said.

If captured, pro-Ankara forces would control 50 continuous kilometres of Afrin?s northern border with Turkey.

The operation is likely to be further complicated reports by the Syrian state news agency SANA that pro-government forces were expected to enter Afrin to counter the Turkish offensive.

But, in what appeared to be a thinly-veiled threat to Damascus, Erdogan on Tuesday warned Turkey would brook no interference from outside forces.

“We will block the way of those who come to help from outside the city or the region,” he said.

– Strained ties with US –

The operation strained already-difficult ties with Washington which has given weaponry to the YPG as part of its fight against Islamic State jihadists in Syria.

The US has called on Turkey to show restraint, warning that the offensive risked diluting the fight against the jihadists.

And Erdogan has threatened to expand the offensive to the YPG-held town of Manbij.

When US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Ankara last week, the two sides agreed to work together in Syria and set up working groups on issues like Manbij where American troops are operating and which the US diplomat described as a “priority”.

In addition to its disagreements with Washington, Turkey must take into account the interests of Russia, a key Damascus ally, which controls northern Syrian airspace.

Moscow may have given the green light to the offensive, but it has previously closed the airspace to Turkish jets after a Russian plane was shot down in an area of north Syria where Turkish military observers were expected to enforce a de-escalation zone.

The offensive is broadly supported in Turkey where political parties, media and clerics speak in unison, against a backdrop of nationalist rhetoric led by Erdogan.

Only the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) does not back the operation.

Since Olive Branch got under way, Turkey has detained 786 people, 587 of whom are being held for spreading “terror propaganda” on social media, the interior ministry says, in what opponents charge is a crackdown on those criticising the operation.

Another 85 people have been held on charges of organising protests against the offensive.

by Raziye Akkoc


Sanem Altan: In Turkey ‘Justice is determined in the presidential palace’

February 18, 2018

Turkish journalist Ahmet Altan has been sentenced to life in prison for “violating the constitution.” His daughter tells DW that the verdict is a political decision aimed at President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s opponents.

Sanem Altan hugs her fatherAhmet Altan with his daughter, Sanem

DW: Your father has spent the last 512 days behind bars. Your uncle, the economics professor Mehmet Altan, is also incarcerated. Yesterday, both were sentenced to life in prison. What do you make of this verdict?

Sanem Altan: There is a very simple explanation for it. The decision clearly tells us that Turkish courts do not need evidence to convict someone, and that anyone can be jailed — even sentenced to life in prison. The sentence shows that the rule of law is disappearing, it shows how rotten it has become and how it has been transformed into a matter of personal interest. It is very clear that the decision is aimed at Erdogan’s opponents. Therefore, I find the decision to be both reprehensible, and at the same time laughable. Nevertheless, it does not make me especially sad, surprised or even fearful.

Were you allowed to see your father after the verdict was handed down? What does he think about it?

Ahmet Altan (picture-alliance/dpa/J. Woitas)


Turkish journalist Ahmet Altan

I visited my father yesterday after the court proceedings. When I saw him, he told me something wonderful: “This verdict has made us the most popular prisoners in the world. Because the world is watching the farce that is taking place here.”

The whole world is interested in such injustices. If authorities want to destroy opponents — as my father says, life in prison really means “die in prison” — they have done just the opposite. These prisoners are now in the international spotlight. It is the most senseless strategy I have ever seen. One needs a certain amount of intelligence to commit evil acts, and it seems they don’t even have that.

Read more: Turkey ‘terror propaganda’ crackdown sees dozens arrested for social media comments

Have you seen your uncle?

The state of emergency has prohibited me from seeing my uncle for the last 18 months. As a niece, I am not allowed to visit him. But his wife and his lawyer tell me that he is doing very well.

Since my father and uncle have been allowed to see each other, I have also gotten news about him from my father. My uncle has been strong throughout this ordeal as well, especially since the whole world found out that he still hasn’t been released despite a Turkish constitutional court order to do so. Ahmet and Mehmet Altan are imprisoned but they are more relaxed than people on the outside.

The Turkish-German reporter Deniz Yücel, who had been in jail without charge for a year, was released yesterday. How did you take the news of your father and uncle being sentenced to life in prison in light of Yücel’s release?

Türkei Istanbul Freilassung Deniz Yücel (Twitter/Veysel Ok)German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel (left) has been released from prison in Istanbul

I just laughed and pondered the colossal stupidity of my opponents. By announcing both decisions on the same day, they simply made it clear that there is no justice in Turkey. While TV screens were filled with news of Deniz Yücel’s release yesterday, the crawler at the bottom announced that a new indictment was being prepared in an attempt to jail him for another 18 years. Brilliant! Deniz is set free and two more journalists are sentenced to life in prison. And people have the gall to say that we have an independent justice system in this country. Deniz, Ahmet … the names don’t matter. I was truly happy that Deniz was set free. But the one thing that connects his release and my father’s sentence is the fact that justice in Turkey is controlled by the presidential palace. I think that is clear for all to see.

Some say that Deniz Yücel was released because he has both Turkish and German citizenship and that the German government put pressure on counterparts in Turkey. Many social media commentators have claimed that Yücel would still be in jail if he wasn’t a German citizen. How do you see the situation?

Maybe some people see things more emotionally. I just read a tweet that said Ahmet Sik [another Turkish journalist currently in prison] doesn’t have an Angela Merkel. I can certainly understand that sentiment. I think that each and every one of those journalists are a bargaining chip for the Turkish government. My father, my uncle and all of the other journalists are not sitting in Turkish jail cells because of legal decisions, but rather political decisions — and their release will also be a political and not a judicial decision. They will be part of future negotiations. That is the way things work, and that is what the Turkish government’s stance on the matter is. Deniz Yücel was also part of an agreement and I think it is wonderful that he was released and can be with the people he loves.

Gezal Acer interviewed Sanem Altan.

Merkel says hurdles remain to rebuild frayed Turkey ties

February 15, 2018


© DPA/AFP | Chancellor Angela Merkel Thursday told Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim that hurdles remain toward restoring damaged relations while a German-Turkish journalist remains in jail

BERLIN (AFP) – Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday told Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim that hurdles remain on the path to restoring damaged relations while a German-Turkish journalist remains in jail.Speaking at a Berlin joint press conference with Yildirim, Merkel said that both sides “have an interest in improving ties — possibly on the basis of shared values, but that isn’t easy right now”.

She reiterated German concerns about the rule of law in NATO partner Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government responded to a 2016 failed coup attempt with mass arrests.

“We know our bilateral relations have entered choppy waters and to a degree are still there, but we’re trying step by step to resolve the cases”, she said.

Merkel pointed to the high-profile case of Die Welt correspondent Deniz Yucel — who the previous day marked one year in Turkish custody — and other German citizens Berlin says are held for political reasons.

Such detentions had “clouded” relations and marked a continuing “burden”, she said.

Yildirim said Turkish courts were working through a huge backlog of cases but voiced hope that Yucel would soon face a court, adding that any hearing offered a measure of “hope”.

The premier insisted on the independence of Turkish courts and added: “We do not want this case to hurt … relations between Germany and Turkey”.

Merkel was also cool on Turkey’s hopes of joining an EU customs union, saying the bloc first needed “to be more convinced of progress on the rule of law”, where there had been “no developments” recently.

Both leaders also discussed Turkey’s military incursion into northern Syria’s Afrin region against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) Kurdish militia.

The press conference was disrupted by a journalist with a Kurdish news site who held up photos of conflict casualties.

Yildirim dismissed them as “propaganda” and said they depicted “other events”.

“If you want to know what’s really going on in Afrin, go over there and you’ll see what’s really going on there,” he said.

He also stressed that, amid Syria’s war and refugee crisis, “we have welcomed 3.5 million Syrians, we have shared our bread with them … Our hands are clean, we know what we are doing.”

Tillerson heads to Turkey to ease tensions over Syria

February 15, 2018

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Turkey’s operation “detracted” from the fight against Daesh terrorists. (AFP)
ANKARA: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives in Turkey on Thursday seeking to ease tensions with its NATO ally that have reached fresh heights over Ankara’s ongoing operation inside Syria.
During his two-day trip to the Turkish capital, Tillerson — who last visited in July 2017 — will hold talks with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkey’s operation against a Kurdish militia in Syria has added a potentially insurmountable new problem to the litany of issues clouding the relationship between Washington and Ankara.
Analysts said the level of tension was similar to 2003 when Turkey refused to let US troops operate from its territory for the Iraq war, or even the aftermath of Ankara’s invasion of Cyprus in 1974.
Turkey’s operation against the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara blacklists as a terror group, has seen troops fighting a militia which is closely allied with the US in the battle against extremists.
And Erdogan has further upped the ante by warning US troops to steer clear of Manbij, a YPG-held town east of Afrin where the main operation is happening, raising fears of a clash.
“We are going to go to Manbij and if they are there, it’s too bad for them,” a senior Turkish official said.
When a US commander told the New York Times it would respond “aggressively” to any attack by Turkey, Erdogan didn’t mince his words.
“It’s very clear that those who make such remarks have never experienced an Ottoman slap,” he said, using the term for a backhander which, according to legend, could kill an opponent in one stroke.
For Ankara, the YPG is linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is blacklisted as a terror outfit by the US and the EU.
But for Washington, the YPG is an ally.
On Tuesday, Tillerson said Turkey’s operation “detracted” from the fight against Daesh terrorists, saying Kurdish fighters had been “diverted” from where they were really needed in order to fight in Afrin.
Former State Department official Amanda Sloat said Washington did not appear to have “developed a clear way forward on Syria nor determined how its plans address Turkish security concerns.”
And if Ankara expected any clarity from US officials on the way forward in Syria, it would be “disappointed,” said Sloat, now a senior fellow at the US-based Brookings Institution.
Speaking ahead of the visit, a senior State Department official said “eyes had to be on” the defeat of Daesh.
“It’s complicated enough. Let’s not make it more so.”
But Cavusoglu warned Washington that ties were at a “critical point” where relations would “be fixed or… completely damaged.”
Ties were damaged after the failed coup of 2016 with Turkey stung by a perceived lack of US solidarity and angered by its intransigence over the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania-based cleric blamed for ordering the putsch.
There is still no US ambassador to Turkey after the departure of John Bass last year, and it was only in December that the two sides ended a row following tit-for-tat suspensions of visa services.
Last month, Ankara reacted furiously to the conviction in New York of Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla on charges of violating sanctions against Iran.
And Washington has expressed concern that several of its citizens, as well as Turkish employees of US missions, have been caught up in the post-coup crackdown.
Last week, NASA scientist Serkan Golge, a dual national, was jailed for seven-and-a-half years for being a member of Gulen’s movement, with the State Department saying he had been convicted “without credible evidence.”
Another case is that of US pastor Andrew Brunson, who ran a church in Izmir, who has been held on similar charges since October 2016.
Such tensions have affected the Turkish public with 83 percent holding unfavorable views of the US, a Center for American Progress (CAP) poll showed this week.
“The Turkish public has long been skeptical of the US, but Erdogan and the (ruling party) have chosen to inflame the public’s anger to score political points,” said CAP’s associate director Max Hoffman.

US and Turkey at odds in Syria ahead of Rex Tillerson’s visit

February 15, 2018

The war in Syria has escalated Washington-Ankara tension. But ahead of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit this week, former US Ambassador to Turkey Ross Wilson told DW he’s hopeful cooler heads will prevail.

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Jamie Jarrard left, thanks Manbij Military Council commander Muhammed Abu Adeel during a visit to a small outpost near the town of Manbij, northern Syria

DW: Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria has further strained the already tense ties between Ankara and Washington. Do you fear that this latest development might lead to an armed confrontation between US and Turkish soldiers in the region?

Ross Wilson: Obviously the war of words has grown dramatic. Anger in Ankara over what Turkish officials regard and see as broken American promises, anger in the Pentagon especially over what they regard as excessive reactions on the Turkish side… This is not leading in a good direction. Having said that, I think the prospects of an armed confrontation are low. Cooler heads, particularly cooler military heads, I think will prevail.

Read more: US-Turkey ties at make-or-break point

Turkey says that US support for the Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG) and the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in northern Syria is in fact strengthening the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and risking the formation of an autonomous region along Turkey’s border controlled by the PKK. Is the US actively pursuing a policy that will help to form a Kurdish autonomous region in northern Syria that would be controlled by the PKK, a group Washington and Ankara both consider a terrorist organization?

If you read what [US Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson said in a speech he gave at the Hoover Institution, he seemed, I thought, pretty clearly not to suggest that the US is in favor of a Kurdish autonomous region or a Kurdish independent region in northern Syria… He talked about Syria’s unity… And I thought that was important. In practice what the US military has been engaged in in Syria has been support of Kurdish aspirations or particularly the PYD’s political and military aspirations in northern Syria. And that is a significant problem.

I don’t think it’s our military’s intention to create an independent Kurdish state. Their focus has been fighting against ISIL (the “Islamic State”) and I think now in securing the border from the leakage of former ISİL fighters out of Syria, which in general is probably a good thing including for Turkey. But the means that they have used to go about it have, I think, ended up being counterproductive to what it was that Secretary Tillerson spoke out about just a number of days ago.

Read more: Who are the Kurds?

 Ross Wilson ARCHIV 2005 (picture alliance/AP Photo)


Ross Wilson is the former US ambassador to Turkey

Can the US and Turkey find a way to de-escalate the tension?

I assume that that’s going to be one of the objectives Secretary Tillerson has when he is in Ankara … My own view is that the way forward has got to involve some combination of things. One is a little bit more realism in Washington about what’s possible in Syria, including with respect to the resources that the US is prepared to bring to bear to transform the situation there. The most likely scenario is that [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad is going to remain in power and will regain control over most the country.

By the same token it’s very clear that the Syrian Kurds are emerging from the last two to three years’ fight against ISIL considerably strengthened, and will play a different kind of role in whatever sort of Syria emerges now over the course of the next year or two … They are not going to go anywhere. And that’s a fact that Turkey is not really in a position to prevent, unless Turkey is prepared to take over the whole of northern Syria, which isn’t realistic. And at the same time Turkey does have a legitimate security problem with respect to the PKK. I have been one that has long thought that the PYD is more or less the same thing. In any case it’s a subsidiary or an ally of the PKK at a minimum. And the way forward needs to deal with those three realities.

Tillerson and Erdogan (picture alliance/dpa/Prime Minister's Press Service)

Tillerson visited Turkey twice during his first year in office

We are witnessing a growing rift between the two countries, who are NATO allies. Many Turks suspect that the 2016 coup attempt was backed by Washington. Several US consulate employees are still under arrest and US politicians are voicing concerns over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s authoritarian rule.

Bilateral tensions and deep concerns about the domestic developments in Turkey are important impediments. But Syria is the most important issue. If the US and Turkey can find a reasonably cohesive way forward with respect to Syria, the other problems are more or less manageable, they have been managed for the last couple of years. It is extremely important and good that Secretary Tillerson has included Turkey on his mission to the region, it’s good that National Security Advisor [H.R.] McMaster took the time to visit Turkey. A frank exchange of views is important. Tillerson’s visit can offer an opportunity to try to reset things if cool-headedness would prevail.

Read more: NATO says US and Turkey aiming to avoid direct clashes in Afrin

Following McMaster’s recent trip to Ankara, both sides reaffirmed their long-term strategic partnership. But can you still describe this relationship as a strategic one?

Turkey remains a member of NATO and that makes it an important strategic partner for the US by definition. Turkey is an extremely important asset for the US in a very, very difficult part of the world. By the same token, the US connection and the alliance connection is extremely important for Turkey — a huge asset that gives Turkey a kind of importance in the region. It’s profoundly in the interest of both countries to keep that alliance intact, even while we sort out some tough issues … It’s clearly a less friendly relationship than it used to be but it’s extremely important to both Washington and to Ankara.

Ross Wilson is a distinguished senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. He served as the US ambassador to Turkey from 2005 to 2008.

Impose Sanctions on Turkey

February 11, 2018

Use the Magnitsky Act to answer the imprisonment of another American on trumped-up charges.

Turkish tanks move into position as pro-government protesters attempt to stop them during the coup attempt in Ankara, Turkey July 16, 2016.
Turkish tanks move into position as pro-government protesters attempt to stop them during the coup attempt in Ankara, Turkey July 16, 2016.PHOTO: SELCUK SAMILOGLU/ASSOCIATED PRESS

A Turkish court Thursday sentenced Serkan Golge, a dual Turkish-American citizen, to 7½ years in prison on trumped-up charges of membership in a terrorist organization. Mr. Golge, who works for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in Texas, was visiting family in Turkey when he was arrested in July 2016 as a part of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown in the wake of the attempted coup in the summer of 2016.

This outrageous prosecution represents the latest breakdown in U.S. diplomatic efforts to free American citizens wrongfully imprisoned in Turkey. Several other Americans, including Andrew Brunson, an evangelical pastor, have also been caught up in Mr. Erdogan’s latest purges.

On Jan. 12, citing politically motivated detentions as well as the risk of terrorism, the State Department announced a Level 3 travel advisory for Turkey, urging U.S. citizens to “reconsider” travel there. This warning is appropriate, but the Golge sentencing warrants additional action. The administration should also consider advising U.S. business owners to consider the safety of their employees before expanding operations into Turkey. And most important, it should impose sanctions against Turkish officials involved in the prolonged and wrongful imprisonment of Americans.

The White House has the tools necessary to institute a range of targeted sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act, but Congress is more than willing to provide additional incentives if needed. A State Department spending bill, already approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee and expected to pass in the coming weeks, requires the secretary of state to deny entry to the U.S. to Turkish officials “knowingly responsible for the wrongful or unlawful prolonged detention of citizens or nationals of the United States.”

The findings of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom provide further support for a reassessment of the U.S.-Turkey relationship. The commission’s reports for the past several years have listed Turkey as a Tier 2 country of concern, meaning violations of religious freedom met “at least one of the elements of the ‘systematic, ongoing, and egregious’ ” standard under the International Religious Freedom Act. The government’s oppression of religious minorities is consistent with the authoritarian turn exhibited by its pattern of arbitrary arrests and detentions since 2016.

There are many nations around the world where such behavior is commonplace, such as Cuba and Iran. But the recent level of thuggishness is unprecedented for an ally in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The U.S. should work with Turkey as it faces down our common enemy of Islamist terrorism, but we must also realistically confront Mr. Erdogan’s challenges to the relationship.

Mr. Lankford, a Republican, is a U.S. senator from Oklahoma.

Appeared in the February 10, 2018, print edition.

Erdogan tells the United States to withdraw any American forces from the Syrian town of Manbij

February 6, 2018


© AFP/File | Turkey on January 20 launched a major operation aimed at ousting YPG forces from their enclave of the northwestern town of Afrin.


President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday warned the United States to withdraw any American forces from the Syrian town of Manbij, vowing Turkish troops would expand a cross-border military operation to the key strategic hub.

Erdogan blamed Washington for the presence in Manbij of fighters from the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) and its Democratic Union Party (PYD) political wing, which Ankara sees as terror groups.

Turkey on January 20 launched a major operation aimed at ousting YPG forces from their enclave of the northwestern town of Afrin. However moving east to Manbij — where unlike Afrin there is a US military presence — would mark a major escalation.

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  President Tayyip Erdoğan

Accusing Washington of breaking past promises, Erdogan said: “They (Americans) told us they will pull out of Manbij. They said they will not stay in Manbij… Why don’t you just go?”

“Who did you bring there? PYD. Who did you bring there? YPG. Who did you bring there? PKK,” he said.

Turkey considers YPG as Syrian offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has waged an insurgency since 1984 and is designated a terrorist outfit by Ankara and its Western allies.

“And then you tell us not to come to Manbij! We will come to Manbij to return it to its original owners,” he added.

Turkey considers towns like Manbij to be originally Arab-majority territory whose ethnic balance was upset in favour of the Kurds during the seven-year civil war.

Turkey’s Western allies, including the United States, do not classify the YPG as a terror group and have worked closely with its fighters in the battle against Islamic State jihadists.

In 2016, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance dominated by the YPG, captured Manbij from IS.

In a show of anger at Turkey’s NATO ally, Erdogan asked the United States what it was doing in Syria in the first place.

“You do not have a border, you are not a neighbour (of Syria),” he said. “What’s your business there? We have a 911 kilometre (566 miles) border.”

Erdogan also accused US President Donald Trump and his predecessor Barack Obama of failing to tell the truth over US support for the YPG.

“They told us many things but unfortunately they did not tell the truth,” Erdogan said. “Mr Obama did not tell the truth and now Mr Trump is heading down the same path.”

Turkish soldiers killed in Syria attack on Kurdish militia

February 4, 2018


© Ozan Kose, AFP | Turkish soldiers stand on their tanks stationed near the Syrian border at Hassa, in Hatay province on January 25, 2018, as part of the operation ‘Olive Branch’.


Latest update : 2018-02-04

Seven Turkish soldiers were killed Saturday in Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish militia inside Syria, including five who died in a single attack on a tank, the army said.

The losses marked the highest toll in one day for the Turkish military in operation “Olive Branch”, launched in Syria on January 20 against Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia seen by Ankara as a terror group.

The attack on the tank, details of which were not disclosed, was also the single deadliest attack on the military of the offensive so far.

The latest clashes brought to 14 the number of Turkish troops killed so far in operation.

The Turkish army and allied Ankara-backed Syrian rebel forces are seeking to oust the YPG from its western border stronghold of Afrin but the operation so far has been marked by fierce clashes.

The army said that one of the soldiers was killed in a clash and another on the border area, without giving further details.

In a later statement, it added a Turkish army tank had been hit in another attack, killing all five servicemen inside.

A previous statement said one serviceman was killed and another wounded in that attack.

In retaliation, Turkish war planes carried out air strikes on the area from where the attack was carried out, destroying shelters and munitions dumps, it added.

Operation going ‘as planned’

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday the Turkish army and Ankara-backed rebels had suffered 25 fatalities between them in the operation so far.

Meanwhile, seven civilians have been killed in mortar fire on the Turkish side of the border that Ankara blames on the YPG.

Ankara says that major progress has been made in the 15-day operation, with almost 900 YPG fighters killed so far although it is not possible to verify these figures.

Erdogan on Saturday sought to reassure France’s Emmanuel Macron over the operation, telling the French leader it was aimed against “terror elements” and that Ankara had no eye on Syrian territory.

Macron had incensed Turkish officials by saying in a newspaper interview last week that France would have a “real problem” with the campaign if it turned out to be an “invasion operation”.

During the phone call, “the two presidents agreed to work on a diplomatic roadmap in Syria in the coming weeks”, the Elysee Palace said in a statement.

Erdogan said in a speech Saturday that the Turkish forces were beginning to take mountain positions and would now head towards Afrin itself. “There is not much to go,” he said.

Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin meanwhile told journalists in Istanbul that the operation was going as planned but there was no timetable for its duration and it would “continue until we clear all those areas”.

But analysts and monitors say Turkey so far has taken control of limited clumps of territory around the border without yet approaching Afrin town.

Turkey says the YPG is an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state.

However, the YPG has been working closely with the United States to fight the Islamic State extremist group in Syria.

The offensive by Washington’s fellow NATO member Ankara on a US-allied force has even raised fears of a military confrontation between two alliance powers.

Turkey says Assad must go ‘at some point’

February 3, 2018


© AFP/File | Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has clung onto office since the war started seven years ago
ISTANBUL (AFP) – Turkey on Saturday said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should leave office “at some point” in the future but denied there was any kind of contact between Ankara and Damascus over ending the seven year civil war.Ankara has been a prime foe of Assad throughout the conflict but has occasionally softened its rhetoric in the last months as Turkey strengthened cooperation with the regime’s main ally Russia.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesperson, Ibrahim Kalin, told journalists in Istanbul, that Assad was not the leader to unite Syria and had lost legitimacy.

But Kalin said there needed to be a “political transition in Syria”, leading to a new constitution and elections.

“It is not going to be easy but that’s the ultimate goal to reach and at some point Assad will have to go,” he added.

“Where exactly, at what point precisely (Assad leaves), is something that will be answered as we go on, obviously,” he said.

Kalin was speaking after Russia on Tuesday hosted a peace congress on Syria, with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Erdogan expressing “satisfaction”, according to the Kremlin.

Kalin said the Russian position has been “not so much protecting Assad personally but protecting the state institutions, state apparatus and the Syrian army and the regime elements”.

He said: “They want to make sure that the state doesn’t collapse completely in Syria.”

Turkey’s position on Assad has been under ever greater scrutiny since Ankara on January 20 began a cross-border operation with Syrian allied rebel forces against Kurdish militia based in the town of Afrin.

But Kalin denied any contact with Damascus “at any level”.

“There is no communication, no relationship, direct (or) indirect. Nothing with the Syrian regime, at any level. I can say that categorically and very clearly,” he said.

He also rejected the notion that there had been any agreement with Russia allowing the Afrin operation to go ahead in exchange for a deal over the rebel-held neighbouring region of Idlib.

“There’s no deal with Russia ‘you give Idlib and take Afrin’… they are two separate operations,” he said.