Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Ankara will not stop its military operation against Kurdish militants in northeastern Syria “no matter what anyone says”, a day after he vowed to flood Europe with millions of refugees if the European Union brands the offensive an invasion.
Turkish military forces and Turkish-backed militants of the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) on Wednesday launched a long-threatened cross-border invasion of northeast Syria in a declared attempt to eliminate Kurdish militants from the so-called People’s Protection Units (YPG) to push them away from border areas.
Ankara views the US-backed YPG as a terrorist organization tied to the homegrown Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group, which has been seeking an autonomous Kurdish region in Turkey since 1984.
The YPG, which itself is the military wing of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), constitutes the backbone of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an anti-Damascus alliance of predominantly Kurdish militants.
“We will never stop this step we have taken against the PYD/YPG… We will not stop it no matter what anyone says,” Erdogan said on Friday, adding, “We’re receiving threats from right and left, saying stop this progress.”
The Turkish leader once again vowed that the cross-border military operation – called Operation Peace Spring – will continue until all YPG militants withdraw from northern Syria.
“Our fight will continue until all terrorists move further to the south of the 32-kilometer long border that Mr. [Donald] Trump has mentioned. They will abandon this area,” Erdogan said, referring to the US president and the area where the Kurdish militants are operating now.
On Thursday, Erdogan threatened the EU that if it kept condemning Turkey’s operation and calling it an invasion he would allow 3.6 millions of Syrian refugees – housed in Turkey for several years – to make their way toward Europe.
However, EU states threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey over its offensive in the Arab country, angrily rejecting Erdogan’s warning that he would “open the gates” and send refugees to Europe if they did not support his operation.
Later on Friday, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Trump had ordered US officials to draft “”very significant” new sanctions to target Turkey over the offensive, adding that banks were being notified.
He added that Washington was not activating the sanctions now but would do so if necessary.
Late on Friday, however, the Turkish Foreign Ministry, in response to possible US sanctions, said in a statement that Ankara would retaliate to any steps against its efforts to fight terrorism.
“Turkey is fighting with terrorist organizations that create a threat to its national security,” it said, adding, “No one should doubt that we will retaliate … to any step that will be taken against this.”
Turkey’s National Defense Ministry said on Friday that 399 “PKK/PYD-YPG terrorists” had been “neutralized” since the beginning of the operation.
The Turkish military generally uses the term neutralize to signify that the militants surrendered or were killed or captured.
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