Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has backtracked on his earlier statements that his country’s military forces launched operations in neighboring Syria to end the rule of the incumbent Damascus government, asserting that the offensives there are aimed only at terrorists.
“The aim of the Euphrates Shield Operation [in northern Syria] is not any country or person, but only terrorist organizations,” Erdogan said in a speech at the presidential palace in Istanbul on Thursday.
He added, “No one should doubt this issue that we have uttered over and over, and no one should comment on it in another fashion or try to derail it.”
The remarks came only two days after Erdogan said the Turkish army marched into Syria to end the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, whom he accused of terrorism and causing the deaths of thousands.
The Turkish president further alleged that Ankara had no territorial claims in Syria, and that Turkey was seeking to restore “justice” in the war-torn Arab country.
“Why did we enter? We do not have an eye on Syrian soil. The issue is to provide lands to their real owners. That is to say we are there for the establishment of justice,” he said.
He went on to say that he estimates almost one million people to have died in the conflict in Syria. This is while UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura puts the number of people killed in the five-year foreign-sponsored militancy at more than 400,000 people.
Those remarks caused consternation in the Kremlin, with Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov demanding Erdogan to clarify anti-Assad goals in Syria.
Late on Wednesday, the Turkish leader and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin discussed the latest situation in Syria over the phone. The two statesmen also talked about efforts to find a solution to the humanitarian crisis in the divided northwestern Syrian city of Aleppo.
On August 24, the Turkish air force and special ground forces kicked off Operation Euphrates Shield inside Syria in a declared bid to support the Free Syrian Army militants and rid the border area of Daesh terrorists and fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Democratic Union Party (PYD).
The offensive was launched in coordination with the US-led military coalition, which has purportedly been fighting Daesh extremists since 2014.
The incursion was the first major Turkish military intervention in Syria, which drew strong condemnation from the Syrian government for violating the Arab country's sovereignty.