Turkey expects to take Afrin centre in ‘very short time’
ANKARA - Turkey on Thursday said it would oust Kurdish militia from the centre of Afrin in northern Syria "in a very short time", as pro-Ankara forces surrounded the city.
Ankara on January 20 launched a military operation supporting Syrian rebels against the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia in its enclave of Afrin.
Turkey says the YPG is a "terrorist" offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984.
"The circle is closing in around the terrorists. We anticipate that the centre of Afrin will be cleared of terrorists in a very short time, God willing in the coming days," Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said.
The rebels and Turkish troops closed in on the main city on Wednesday.
Kalin told state broadcaster TRT in an interview that the offensive, dubbed operation Olive Branch, had secured 70 percent of the territory of Afrin district.
The US, which has worked closely with the YPG in the fight against jihadists, has urged restraint and the operation has increased tension between Turkey and its NATO ally.
But following a visit by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last month, the two countries said they would work together to solve a dispute over the control of the YPG-held Syrian town of Manbij.
Turkey has repeatedly warned it could extend its Afrin operation to Manbij, where the US military has a presence, and even further beyond that towards the Iraqi border.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was due to visit Washington on March 19 but the ministry said the visit had been postponed after Tillerson was fired by US President Donald Trump, who nominated CIA director Mike Pompeo as his replacement.
But Kalin insisted the change would not affect agreements with the US over Manbij that have yet to be made fully clear.
Cavusoglu was quoted as saying earlier this week that Turkish and American officials agreed the YPG would withdraw from Manbij and the two countries' forces would secure the town.
"Just because Pompeo is replacing Tillerson does not mean that the framework agreed on is being abandoned," Kalin said.
The spokesman said Pompeo did not have all the necessary information yet, but Kalin insisted the change was "not serious" and they would lose only "one, two weeks".
The two sides last month said they would set up working groups to solve key issues affecting relations, with the first meetings taking place in Washington on March 8-9.