3 April 2020

Erdogan signals Manbij as next target in Turkey's Syria operation

KONFRONTASI-Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has shrugged off concerns over a Syrian army deployment along the border, as he indicated that Turkey's offensive against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria will intensify.

Syrian army troops deployed to the northern town of Tabqa, near Raqqa, and entered the northeast town of Tel Tamer, state media reported on Monday, after Damascus reached an agreement with the Kurdish-led forces in the region to deploy into the area.

But Erdogan said he does not expect there will be problems, citing the "positive approach" of Russia, the main military ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"We are coordinating with the Russians," Erdogan said. "There is a lot of gossip now, but it seems ... there won't be any problem in Kobani with Russia's positive approach as of now."

Turkey is in the sixth day of its offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria. It says it has seized control of two key towns, Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain, although there are reports of ongoing fighting in the latter.

"We are about to implement our decision on Manbij," he said. Speaking to reporters before travelling to Azerbaijanon Monday, Erdogan said he expected Kurdish forces to withdraw from other key towns such as Manbij.

"When Manbij is evacuated, we will not go in there as Turkey. Our Arab brothers, who are the real owners, the tribes ... will return there. Our approach is to ensure their return and security there." 

Erdogan also welcomed the announcement by the United States that it was pulling out 1,000 troops from northern Syria.

"This is a positive approach," he told reporters when asked about Sunday's statement from US Pentagon Chief Mark Esper.

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