October 14, 2019 / 11:15 AM / a month ago

Erdogan signals Turkish operation to Syria's Manbij

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan talks to journalists in Istanbul, Turkey, October 13, 2019. Murat Kula/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS

ANKARA (Reuters) - President Tayyip Erdogan signaled on Monday that Turkey aims to drive Kurdish-led fighters from the northern Syrian town of Manbij, after Syrian Kurdish officials struck a deal with the Syrian government to confront Ankara’s offensive.

Earlier on Monday, Syrian army troops entered the town of Tel Tamer in northeastern Syria, according to state media. The Syrian Observatory later said that Syrian government forces had also deployed to Ain Issa in northern Syria, to the frontlines of territory where Turkey is mounting its offensive.

Turkey launched a cross-border operation against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in northeastern Syria last week, after U.S. President Donald Trump decided to withdraw forces from two posts in the area. On Sunday, Washington said it will withdraw its remaining 1,000 from northern Syria as well.

Speaking ahead of a visit to Azerbaijan, Erdogan said Turkey would implement its plans for Manbij and settle Arabs there, after an agreement with Washington last year for YPG fighters to leave the town fell through.

“Our agreement with the United States was for the terrorist organizations to clear Manbij in 90 days,” he said, referring to the YPG. “However, a year has passed and Manbij has not been cleared,” Erdogan told reporters at the airport in Istanbul.

“We, as Turkey, will not go into Manbij when it’s emptied. The real owners of that area, the Arabs, and the tribes who are the true owners of that will go there. Our approach on this is for them to be settled there and to provide their security,” he added.

Asked about the deal struck between the Kurdish forces and Damascus, Erdogan said that he did not expect any problems to emerge in the town of Kobani and added that Russian President Vladimir Putin had a “positive approach.”

“There are many rumors at the moment. However, especially through the embassy and with the positive approach of Russia in Kobani, it appears there won’t be any issues,” he said, without elaborating.

Erdogan also said Washington’s decision to withdraw its last remaining troops from northern Syria was a positive step.

Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Dominic Evans

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