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Erdogan defiant as he declares Manbij next target of 'Olive Branch' offensive

President Erdogan vowed to push on his deadly offensive in Syria [Getty]

Date of publication: 26 January, 2018

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Erdogan has defended his bloody offensive on Kurdish northern Syria, vowing to annihilate 'terrorists' all the way to the Iraqi border, amid mounting civilian and military casualties.
Turkish President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan has defended his bloody offensive on Kurdish northern Syria, vowing to annihilate 'terrorists' all the way to the Iraqi border, amid mounting civilian and military casualties.

Erdogan also issued a rebuttal to the US condemnation of the Turkish-led offensive to oust the Kurdish YPG from Afrin in northwest Syria.

"We are not occupying Afrin. On the contrary, we are trying to make it a liveable place for the real owners while clearing out terrorists from there," the Turkish leader said on Friday.

He was speaking to high-ranking officials of his Justice and Development Party (AKP), according to Anadolu news agency.

Erdogan emphasised that the offensive, dubbed "Operation Olive Branch" was purely directed against terrorists who posed a security threat to the region, adding that the operation would target the Syrian town of Manbij next, and press on to the Iraqi border.

Turkey's continuing offensive on the Syrian Kurdish stronghold of Afrin has killed fourteen people and wounded 130, the Turkish health minister reported on Friday.

Ahmet Demircan told reporters that three Turkish soldiers and 11 rebel soldiers from the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army have been killed so far in the fighting in the northwestern Syrian province.

The minister spoke to journalists after visiting wounded soldiers in hospital. He added that of the 130 soldiers who had been injured, non were in critical condition and 82 of them had so far been released after receiving treatment.

The Turkish army began their offensive, dubbed "Operation Olive Branch" against the Kurdish militia, the People's Protection Units (YPG), in Afrin on 20th January, citing them as a security threat to the region.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported a total of 33 civilian casualties so far, due to ongoing intensive shelling on towns in the province by Turkish warplanes.

Many have strongly criticised Turkey's brutal crushing of the autonomous Kurdish rule in northern Syria, citing Erdogan's fears of the Kurdish separatist movement gaining momentum. It has little, they say, to do with fighting Islamic State terrorists, who have virtually been eradicated from Syria and Iraq.

The Turkish military announced on Friday it had killed at least 343 militants in northern Syria since Operation Olive Branch was launched.

As the clashes intensified, US officials issued a strong warning to Turkey, calling for the country to show "restraint" in its strong-arm offensive.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned the offensive "disrupts what was a relatively stable area in Syria and distracts from the international effort to defeat" IS, on a visit to Indonesia.

France and the European Union have made similar comments to those made by Mattis.

Ankara has expressed impatience with such sentiments, arguing that the YPG is the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which has waged a bloody three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state.

Erdogan visited a military command centre in the southern Turkish province of Hatay on Thursday. He reiterated previous statements  that Turkey had no intention of taking control of Syrian territory, and that Afrin would be handed back to the Syrians once it was "cleared of terrorists," according to Hurriyet News.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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