ISTANBUL/AFRIN,Syria: The Turkish president is suggesting that Turkey’s military could soon launch a new operation across the border into northern Syria, in zones held by Syrian Kurdish fighters.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statement is renewing a threat to expand Turkey’s military operations into areas east of the Euphrates River held by US-backed Syrian Kurds.
Ankara considers the Syrian Kurdish militia as terrorist and part of a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.
Erdogan says: “God willing, very soon ... we will leave the terror nests east of the Euphrates in disarray.” He spoke on Friday at a military ceremony honoring Turkish commando soldiers.
Turkey launched incursion into Syria in 2016 and 2018, into areas west of the Euphrates, pushing Daesh militants as well as Syrian Kurdish fighters from the border area.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that the Kurdish YPG militia has not left the northern Syrian town of Manbij, contrary to a US-Turkish agreement, and Turkey will do what is necessary.
“They are now digging trenches in Manbij. What does this mean? It means ‘we’ve prepared the graves, come and bury us’,” Erdogan said at a rally in southern Turkey. “They said they would abandon the area in 90 days, but they haven’t. We will do what is necessary.”
Meanwhile, residents of Syria’s Afrin region say they are suffering a litany of abuses at the hands of Turkish-backed fighters.
They say the fear of harassment has kept them shuttered inside their homes since Ankara and its Arab opposition allies overran the then overwhelmingly Kurdish city in March after a two-month air and ground offensive.
Their testimonies, given under pseudonyms because of fear of retribution, paint a picture of a chaotic city with little protection for civilians. “They robbed my son’s house and didn’t leave a thing — not even the clothes,” says 55-year-old resident Ahmad.
His own motorcycle and 20 gas canisters were seized by opposition fighters, who also looted his family’s liquor store.
Since Turkish troops and pro-Ankara Arab fighters captured the city from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the UN and human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have documented widespread abuses.
Half of the enclave’s 320,000 residents fled, according to a recent report by the UN Commission of Inquiry, and most are unable to return.
Those who have often found their homes occupied by fighters or by Arab civilians displaced from other parts of Syria, the UN said.
Other returned to homes “stripped of furniture, electrical appliances and all decor,” in large-scale looting.
Ahmad and his family fled the fighting but came back recently to scenes of devastation with their property looted and their hometown barely recognizable. “When we came back, not even our tractor was left,” he said. “They don’t even let us sleep at night, with all the shooting.”
Turkey has denied allegations of abuses, and fighters say proven offenders are punished.
But residents say not enough is done to curb violations. And it is not only Kurds who have fallen victim to the lawlessness.
Samia, an Arab student in Afrin, says she has been permanently scarred by her father’s brutal killing by armed men trying to steal their family car. “The first time they tried, my father kicked them out of the house. They came back a second time for revenge and killed him,” she recounts. Fighters investigated, but “the killer went to jail for just one month,” she said.
Separately, The UN’s World Food Program is preparing for a vast new wave of refugees likely to flee to Turkey if a looming conflict breaks out in Syria’s flash point Idlib region, WFP Executive Director David Beasley said Friday.
Beasley said the agency is “pre-positioning rations for short term, middle range, along the Turkish border.”
He said the WFP is working with Turkish, Russian, Syrian, US and other officials “to do what we can to minimize the impact when a war truly goes into full scale mode there.”