ISTANBUL – The Turkish Army has so far acknowledged the death of two soldiers in its military offensive against Kurdish militias in northern Syria and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gathered his top officials for the burial ceremony of one of those fallen troops on Tuesday.
Erdogan attended the funeral for the noncommissioned officer Musa Ozalkan, who was confirmed dead on Monday night in a confrontation with the Kurdish YPG militias, which the United States supported in the fight against the Islamic State terror organization but is regarded as a terror organization by Ankara.
At the soldier’s burial in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, close to the Syrian border, Erdogan said to the press: “Of this we are decided; by means of successfully accomplishing this (military) operation, we will win.”
The Kurdish YPG for their part claimed on Monday that it killed eight Turkish soldiers, instead of the one soldier that Ankara initially reported.
On Saturday, Turkey began operation “Olive Branch” into the Kurdish enclave of Afrin to expel the YPG from the border, as Ankara considers the group to be a direct extension of the PKK, the Kurdish guerrillas that have fought the Turkish state for three decades in the country’s eastern hinterlands.
“As long as this region (northern Syria) is a place from which the terror threat arises, we will continue our military operation until the situation exists where local residents can live in tranquility,” Erdogan said in a statement shared on his official Twitter account Monday.
The Turkish Army has advanced about 8-kilometers (5-miles) into Afrin, and recently opened a new front from the east, advancing from the Syrian city of Azaz alongside its allies from the Free Syrian Army rebel group.
Turkish authorities have harshly criticized Washington for its support of Kurdish militias in Syria and the current military operation has further strained relations between the two countries, both of which are NATO allies.
A US delegation, headed by deputy assistant secretary of the Department of State, Jonathan Cohen, is to meet on Tuesday with representatives of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the military’s General Staff.
Erdogan rejected on Monday the US request that the military operation be limited in time and intensity and affirmed that his country does not need anyone’s permission to defend itself.
Erdogan also announced that after the Afrin operation, another military attack will be launched against Manbij, a Syrian city located 100 kilometers to the east, which has been in the hands of the YPG since 2016.
“We tell the US not to overshadow us; that they should not confront us. The Manbij terrorists continually fire at – our troops in the Euphrates region. If the US cannot stop this, we will do it,” Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said in an interview published today by the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet.
In a nod to the sizable Syrian refugee community now living in Turkey, Erdogan also tweeted: “When calm and security have been established in Afrin and neighboring Idlib, hundreds of thousands of our Syrian brethren will have the chance to be rejoined with their country, with their homes.”