“Can you imagine the whole West stood by the terrorists and all attacked us including NATO member states and European Union [EU] countries?” said Erdogan, speaking at Turkey’s TRT World Forum in Istanbul on Monday.
Turkish military forces and militants of the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA), who enjoy Ankara’s patronage, on October 9 launched a cross-border invasion of northeast Syria in a declared attempt to clear Kurdish militants from the so-called People’s Protection Units (YPG) from border areas, Presstv Reported.
Ankara views the US-backed YPG as a terrorist organization tied to the homegrown Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group, which has been seeking an autonomous Kurdish region in Turkey since 1984.
The YPG, which itself is the military wing of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), constitutes the backbone of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an anti-Damascus alliance of predominantly Kurdish militants.
The incursion came after the US abruptly withdrew its forces from the region, clearing the path for Turkey to go ahead with a planned military action against Washington’s longtime Kurdish allies.
Turkey plans to create a 32-kilometer “safe zone” in northeastern Syria, clear it from the presence of Kurdish militants, and relocate one million Syrian refugees there.
The Syrian government has condemned the Turkish offensive - called Operation Peace Spring - as a flagrant act of aggression, which has also been denounced by the European and Arab states.
Earlier this month, the Turkish president vowed to flood Europe with 3.6 million Syrian refugees, housed in Turkey for the past several years, if the EU kept condemning Turkey’s operation and branding it as an invasion.
However, EU states, for their part, threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey, a NATO member, over the offensive, angrily rejecting Erdogan’s refugee threat. Separately, France and Germany also threatened that they were suspending arms exports to Turkey over the operation.
“Since when did you [Western countries] start to side with terror? Did PYD-YPG join NATO and we do not know about it?” Erdogan asked on Monday, a day before departing for Sochi to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On Thursday and after talks with US Vice President Mike Pence in Ankara, Turkey agreed to halt the offensive for five days to allow the YPG militants to pull out from the border area. Ankara says it will end the operation altogether provided that the militants are completely cleared from the zone.
The Turkish president has also threatened to resume the operation if the militants fail to pull out.
“As you know, there is a pause of 120 hours. A major part of [the period] has ended. Tomorrow [on October 22] we have a visit to Russia, Sochi. In this trip, Mr. Putin and I will tackle the period and will hopefully take the necessary steps,” Erdogan said.
Elsewhere in his remarks on Monday, the Turkish leader insisted that Ankara would “never sit at the same table with terrorists.”
“Others may do it. It’s not our business, but it is significant to see where international politics, law of war and the fight against terrorism have come.”
The Turkish military has previously launched two cross-border incursions in northern Syria, namely “Euphrates Shield” in August 2016 and “Olive Branch” in January 2018, with the declared aim of eradicating Kurdish militants and Daesh Takfiri terrorists near Turkey’s borders.