ANKARA – Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday an ongoing military intervention into the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin in northern Syria was being conducted with the consent of Russia, amid growing pleas from Kurdish militias for the United States-led international coalition to step in.
Addressing a crowd in Ankara, Erdogan not only alluded to Russia’s complicity in the Afrin campaign but heaped scorn the US military policy in the region, castigating Washington for allegedly equipping the Kurdish YPG militias, which are considered a terrorist organization in Turkey.
“We will not back down in Afrin. We have spoken with the Russians and have their consent,” said the hardline Justice and Development Party (AKP) leader. “They (the US) are not truthful with us. We will continue our approach in the context of the dialogue we maintain with Russia,” he added.
With the backing of the US-led international coalition, the YPG successfully recaptured Raqqa from the Islamic State terror organization but are regarded by Turkey as indistinguishable from the PKK separatists in eastern Turkey.
As the offensive into Afrin entered its third day on Monday, the General Command of the Syrian Democratic Forces, an umbrella group that has the YPG at its heart, pleaded to the US coalition for military support.
“The international coalition, which is our partner in the fight against terrorism, should fulfill its responsibilities regarding our forces and our people,” said an SDF statement that also urged Russia to make its stance with regards to the Turkish incursion.
The statement accused Turkey of supporting extremist rebel groups, including former al-Qaida outfits and the IS.
The US has urged Turkey to show restraint in its Afrin operation, which has been codenamed Operation Olive Branch and was being conducted in cooperation with units from the Free Syrian Army rebel groups.
Turkey sought to carve out a buffer zone 30 kilometers (18 miles) deep into Syria to provide a safe area that, according to Erdogan, would allow Syrian refugees to return home from Turkey.
The first ground troops crossed the border into Afrin on Sunday morning and have since claimed a handful of towns and villages from the YPG, although exact figures were disputed by the Kurdish militias who said the offensive was repelled.
The campaign was launched roughly one week after a US suggestion to create a 30,000-strong border force in northern Syria composed mainly of YPG fighters.