President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey is set to “lay siege” to the northwestern Syrian region of Afrin, where the Turkish military has been fighting Kurdish militants over the past month.
“In the coming days, swiftly, we will lay siege to the center of the town of Afrin,” Erdogan said on Tuesday to the lawmakers of his ruling Justice and Development Party on Tuesday.
The Turkish president said the siege will prevent militants of the Kurdish People’s Protection Unites (YPG) from “bargaining” with the Syrian government.
Erdogan, however, said, “We did not go there to burn it down,” stressing that the so-called Operation Olive Branch is meant to “create a safe and livable area” for the Syrian refugees inside Turkey.
Turkey began the offensive on January 19 against the YPG, which controls Afrin. It associates the Kurds there with the separatist c (PKK), which has been fighting for autonomy on Turkish soil since 1984.
The offensive prompted local authorities to ask Damascus for help.
The plan to besiege Afrin comes amid reports that the Syrian army is set to deploy troops to the region to support the Kurds in the face of Turkey’s aggression.
A senior Syrian Kurdish official said on Sunday that the region’s Kurdish authorities and the Syrian government had reached a deal for the Syrian army to enter Afrin to face the Turkish military.
On Monday, Syria’s state television said Damascus-backed forces would reach Afrin “within hours.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, however, claimed that the Syrian forces had not entered the region yet, and that it was unclear whether they would.
Ankara has said it would confront Syrian government forces if they came to the region.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has harshly denounced the Turkish incursion as an act of aggression.
Ankara has threatened to expand the operation to the nearby city of Manbij, which is also controlled by the Kurdish militants, and beyond to the Iraqi border.
Reuters, however, reported that the Turkish military and its allies had “made limited progress” in more than a month that has passed since the onset of their attacks.
The agency said the allies had advanced in no more than 10 percent of Afrin’s area “far away from Turkey’s initial target” of clearing out an expanse reaching as far as 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the Turkish border