By Mehmet Tosun and Ozcan Yildirim
Turkey’s ongoing operation in Syria will achieve its goal when Tal Rifaat in northern Aleppo is taken under control, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday.
Operation Olive Branch was launched on Jan. 20 to clear YPG/PKK and Daesh terrorist groups from Afrin in northwestern Syria amid growing threats from the region.
Speaking at his ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party’s 6th ordinary provincial congress in the Black Sea province of Trabzon, Erdogan said: “God willing, we will achieve this operation’s goal by taking control of Tal Rifaat within a short period.”
The president also urged the U.S. to transfer control of Syria's Manbij from YPG/PKK terrorist organization to the city’s “real owners”.
“Together with our brothers and sisters, we can raise Manbij’s substructure and superstructure,” he said, adding this would allow the people of the region to return their homes.
“If the terrorist organization is not cleared from here, then we will have to do this together with the people of the region,” Erdogan added.
Turkey and the U.S. have been trying to iron out a number of issues, principally concerning the terrorist YPG/PKK in Syria, a group the U.S. has worked with, calling it a "reliable ally" in the fight against Daesh.
The U.S. has supported the YPG/PKK under the name of SDF, which is considered by Ankara as the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terror organization that has waged a more than a 30-year war against the Turkish state.
According to the Turkish military, Syria’s Afrin region has been taken under “complete” control. In a statement on Saturday, the army said efforts are in progress to help civilians return home in a secure way.
Turkish troops have also been continuing efforts to search and destroy hand-made explosives and mines planted by the terrorists in Afrin.
Operation Olive Branch is being carried out under the framework of Turkey's rights based on international law, UN Security Council resolutions, its self-defense rights under the UN charter, and respect for Syria's territorial integrity, it said.
The military also said only terror targets are being destroyed and "utmost care" is being taken to not harm civilians.