Turkey's Erdogan says Kurd militia-held town has to be cleared of 'terrorists' ahead of meeting with Syria, Russia

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to launch a military operation on Afrin, which is controlled by the Peoples' Protection Unit, considered by Turkey to be a terror group.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to launch a military operation on Afrin, which is controlled by the Peoples' Protection Unit, considered by Turkey to be a terror group.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

ANKARA (AFP) - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday (Nov 17) said the Kurdish militia-held Syrian town of Afrin had to be cleared of "terrorists", days ahead of a summit meeting with Russia and Iran on Syria's future.

Mr Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to launch a military operation on Afrin, which is controlled by the Peoples' Protection Units (YPG), considered by Turkey to be a terror group.

But the YPG has been the main ally of the United States in fighting Islamists in Syria, a policy that has infuriated Ankara.

"Afrin needs to be cleared of the YPG terror group," Mr Erdogan said in a televised speech, adding that Turkish troops needed to be deployed there as in Idlib province.

"Otherwise, different terror groups will occupy the area."

He slammed the United States over its support for the YPG, saying former president Barack Obama had failed to keep his promises while under Donald Trump Washington had continued to cooperate with the same group under the name Syria Democratic Forces (SDF).

"It was a big disappointment for us that America has not kept its promises, to a large extent, since the start of the Syrian crisis," he added.

"We don't want to enter into the same game in Afrin. A problem that we could solve quite easily together as allies is being dragged out by American intransigence," he added.

Turkey has watched from the sidelines as towns and cities, including Raqqa, have been recaptured from Islamists by the SDF.

He also scoffed at the idea that the United States was fighting against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) extremists.

"That's the headline. But what did you do? You paid a lot of dollars to (ISIS)," he said, reaffirming an claim he has raised in the past that has been rubbished by Washington.

Ankara and Moscow announced on Thursday that Mr Erdogan and Russian and Iranian counterparts Vladimir Putin and Mr Hassan Rouhani would meet for a summit on Syria on Nov 22 in Sochi.

The three countries are now calling themselves the "guarantor powers" for Syria, with no mention of the United States.

"Turkey, Russia and Iran have reached the point of having a common stance" on Syria, Mr Erdogan added.

This was not always the case. Russia, along with Iran, is the key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Turkey, however, has backed the rebels seeking Assad's ouster in a conflict that has left more than 330,000 dead.

But Russia and Turkey have been working together since a 2016 reconciliation deal ended a crisis caused by the shooting down of a Russian war plane over Syria.