ANKARA, TURKEY (AFP) - President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hopes Turkish forces will have completely encircled Afrin by Wednesday (March 14) evening, a presidential source said, clarifying his earlier comments in a speech indicating the Kurdish-held Syrian city would fall by then.
"In the President's speech, the sentence, 'I hope that Afrin will have completely fallen by the evening,' should be understood as 'the encirclement will have been completed by the evening'," said a presidential source in a message to media, asking not to be named.
Mr Erdogan had earlier stated in a speech at the presidential palace in Ankara that Afrin would fall by the evening to the Turkish army and Syrian allies, a claim rejected by the Syrian Kurds.
"We have got a little bit closer to Afrin. I hope that Afrin will, God willing, have completely fallen by the evening," Mr Erdogan said in the speech.
Afrin city is the key target in Turkey's seven-week operation Olive Branch launched on Jan 20 and aimed at ousting the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) from the Afrin region of northern Syria.
A YPG spokesman accused Mr Erdogan of "daydreaming" in the speech.
The Turkish army and its Syrian allies, who had been looking to complete the encirclement in a two-pronged movement from the east and the west, had Afrin city surrounded on Monday, the army said on Tuesday.
"The routes used to the east by the terrorists to enter and go out of the region will be closed today or tomorrow, God willing," Mr Erdogan added in the speech.
Turkey regards the YPG as a terror group and a branch of a Kurdish militant movement in Turkey that has waged an insurgency for decades.
But the YPG has been a key ally of the United States in the fight against Islamists in Syria and Turkey's operation against it has raised tensions with Ankara's Nato allies in Washington and Europe.
Mr Erdogan has repeatedly said that after taking Afrin, Turkey's offensive would expand to key border towns controlled by the YPG right up to the Iraqi frontier.
These would include Kurdish-held towns such as Manbij where US forces have a presence, raising the risk of a confrontation with Turkey's Nato ally.
"We will cleanse Manbij and then in the same way will cleanse east of the Euphrates right up to the Iraqi border," he said.
Mr Erdogan also raised the prospect of a cross-border operation in northern Iraq where the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a decades long struggle against the Turkish army, has its rear bases.
"We are surveying the terror nests in northern Iraq at every opportunity," said Mr Erdogan. "Soon we will bring these down on the heads of the terrorists in the strongest way."