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Turkey 'Won't Step Back' From Syria Operation


Smoke billows from a position inside Syria after Turkish Army shelling, as seen from the outskirts of the village of Sugedigi, Turkey, adjacent to the border with Syria, on January 21.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed there will be no stepping back in its operation against a Kurdish-run enclave in northern Syria that has stoked concern among Ankara's allies.

Erdogan made the comments on January 22 as the Turkish military pressed its cross-border operation aimed at ousting the U.S.-backed People's Protection Units (YPG) militia from its enclave of Afrin, despite U.S. warnings that such a move could further destabilize the area.

Turkey accuses the YPG of having links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency in southeastern Turkey for over 30 years. The PKK is regarded as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union.

"We are determined. Afrin will be sorted out. We will take no step back. We spoke about this with our Russian friends. We have an agreement," Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara, according to the AFP news agency.

He added that Turkey had spoken with the United States about the operation, but said, "We couldn't convince the U.S. on some things." He did not give details.

The Turkish president said that the cross-border operation, which Turkey has dubbed Olive Branch, would be over "when the target is achieved."

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has said the operation, which involves Turkish troops accompanied by allied Syrian rebels and backed by warplanes, artillery, and tanks, is aimed at creating a security zone some 30 kilometers deep inside Syria.

Earlier in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that Moscow was "carefully watching the operation" in Afrin and was in touch with both the Turkish and Syrian governments.

Syria's government has condemned what it called "Turkish aggression on Afrin."

The Russian Defense Ministry said it was withdrawing its troops from the Afrin area to "prevent potential provocation and exclude the threat to the life and well-being of the Russian military."

U.S., Russian 'Concerns'

Russia has given President Bashar al-Assad's government crucial support throughout the war in Syria, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people since it began with a crackdown on protests in 2011.

Also on January 22, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Washington of "actively" encouraging separatist sentiment among Syrian Kurds and of "discouraging the Kurds from dialogue" with the Syrian government.

"This is either a lack of understanding of the situation or an absolutely conscious provocation," Lavrov told reporters in Moscow.

During a visit to London, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the United States was "concerned about the Turkish incident" in northern Syria and called on both sides to show restraint, according to a pool report supplied to Reuters news agency.

"We recognize and fully appreciate Turkey's legitimate right to protect its own citizens from terrorist elements," he said, adding that Washington was aiming to "see what we can do to work together to address Turkey's legitimate security concerns."

A NATO statement said Turkey had suffered from terrorism and had the right to self-defense but urged Ankara to do so in a "proportionate and measured way," AP reported.

The UN Security Council was to convene later on January 22 to discuss the situation in Syria.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters
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