On December 18, the day before U.S. President Donald Trump ordered a full withdrawal of American troops from Syria — on the grounds that the U.S. “had defeated ISIS” — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkey was mounting a new incursion into northern Syria.
The same day, December 18, Erdogan gave a speech in which he said:
“We officially announced last week that we would start a military operation on the east of Euphrates. And we did it… We discussed these things with Mr. Trump too. He gave us positive responses… Until the last terrorist in the region becomes ineffective, we will rake through the Syrian territories inch by inch… We will breathe down their necks.
“The forces that went to Syria with the excuse of [fighting] ISIS still stay there, although such a threat no longer exists. I am saying it once again that we will not allow a terror corridor that is being tried to be established along our border. We already carried out three operations. Now it is time for the east of the Euphrates…
“We carried out Operation Olive Branch in Afrin and recently [another military operation on the Iraqi Yazidi region of] Sinjar. Now we are burying the terrorists in the wells that they have dug. We have spoken with Mr. Trump. The terrorists should go to the east of Euphrates. If they don’t, we will send them there because the terror corridor disturbs us. Since we and the U.S. are strategic partners, we need to do what is required.”
How interesting that Erdogan called Turkey and the U.S. “strategic partners,” when he has repeatedly stated that Turkish campaigns in northern Syria are aimed at eliminating the U.S.-backed Kurdish groups — including the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) founded in 2015 and led by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which in 2014 carved out a de-facto autonomy in the region. It is these groups in particular to which Erdogan was referring as the “terrorists” whom Turkey is “burying in the wells that they have dug.”
Two days later, on December 20, Erdogan held a joint press conference in Ankara with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in which Erdogan announced that Ankara is siding with Tehran against Washington:
“We do not think that it is right for the U.S. to withdraw from the [nuclear] treaty… I would like to emphasize once again that… we think that America’s decisions of sanctions against Iran endangers regional security… We will continue standing by the Iranian people in this period when pressures against Iran, which we think are unjust, are on the rise.”
Rouhani added, “A third country cannot break our relations of neighborliness and brotherhood.”
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