Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that Turkey’s ultimate goal in its military operation in northern Syria is not the town of al-Bab alone but clearing the region of terrorism.
“The ultimate goal is to establish a 5,000-kilometre terror-free zone,” the president told reporters at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport prior to his departure for Bahrain.
“In the following period, toward the east, there are Manbij and Raqqa,” Erdogan said of Turkey’s next targets.
Manbij is currently under the control of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, which is seen by Ankara as the Syrian offshoot of Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Raqqa is a stronghold of the Islamic State (IS).
For months, Turkish troops, sent into northern Syria in August last year for a military offensive and backed by the rebel Free Syrian Army militants, have been battling for IS-held al-Bab, about 30 km from the Turkish border.
In his last remarks in late January, Erdogan reportedly said that Turkish troops would not go any further than al-Bab into the Syrian territory.
The president said at Ataturk Airport that Turkey had shared the idea of going further in northern Syria with the United States and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), adding Ankara “will be follower of these thoughts.”
New CIA Director Mike Pompeo was in Turkey for a visit on Thursday and Friday.
Erdogan said his country has already started to do the infrastructure work for terror-free zone in Syria’s north so that Syrian refugees who are finding refuge in Turkey could return home.
He described Ankara’s second goal as the establishment of a no fly zone in Syria, saying, “Unless you declare a no fly zone, the region couldn’t be secured.”
Currently al-Bab is being besieged by Turkish troops and the Free Syrian Army and retaking the town is “a matter of time,” as IS forces have begun to leave the town, according to the president. Enditem