Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to launch further cross-border military operations into Syria following Ankara’s two previous large-scale offensives into the war-torn country, as he announced his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s manifesto ahead of snap elections on June 24.
“Turkey will launch additional offensives like Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations to clear its border of terror organizations in the new era,” the Turkish leader said at an AK Party’s congress held in Istanbul on Sunday.
Ankara carried out the so-called Operation Euphrates Shield against purported targets of the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group between August 2016 and March 2017, and launched the ongoing Olive Branch offensive against the purported positions of the US-backed People's Protection Units (YPG) Kurdish militia in Syria’s western enclave of Afrin earlier this year.
The Turkish government considers the YPG as a terror group and as the Syrian branch of the PKK militant group that has been fighting for an autonomous region inside Turkey since 1984.
Both offensives were conducted in flagrant defiance of Damascus.
Addressing thousands of his supporters, Erdogan said that his government’s cross-border operations into the Arab country would continue “until not a single terrorist is left.”
“We shattered the terror corridor being formed on our southern border with these operations. Our soldiers, who lastly wrote an epic in Afrin, are ready for new missions,” he added.
Earlier this year, the Turkish leader had threatened to push its Afrin offensive against the YPG militants eastward to Manbij, another Syrian city in the northern province of Aleppo, where US forces are stationed, risking confrontation between the NATO allies.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Erdogan made an array of promises about the economy and uniting the country, as he attempts to secure more votes in the upcoming presidential election, in which he must race against senior legislator Muharrem Ince, a tough opponent presented by Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) as its presidential candidate on Friday.
However, Ince will have a an uphill struggle to convince voters as he is racing, in a gloves-off approach, against the veteran Erdogan, who has been in power either as the prime minister or president since 2003, raising the prospect of a potential bruising political campaign.
A victory for Erdogan would mean extended powers as president based on amendments to Turkey’s constitution approved by voters in a controversial referendum last year. In an unexpected move last month, the Turkish president called the elections more than a year earlier than scheduled, saying his administration was facing numerous legal problems, including economic challenges and the war in Syria, which could be solved only with a more powerful presidency.
Critics, however, say that Erdogan allegedly intends to exploit the growing nationalist feeling after the Olive Branch offensive, and to hold polls before the economy purportedly deteriorates in the Anatolian country.
Rights campaigners and international organizations have already voiced doubts about the legitimacy of the elections which would come under a renewed state of emergency in Turkey. The measure has been in place since a failed coup two years ago, allowing the government to jail or dismiss more than 200,000 people over suspected links to purported coup plotters.