ANKARA, January 15 -- After talks with US President Donald Trump Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has confirmed his country’s intention to create a buffer zone in northern Syria.
Erdogan was speaking on Tuesday at a meeting with parliament members from the Justice and Development Party he leads. "In yesterday’s telephone conversation US President Donald Trump reaffirmed his decision to pull troops out of Syria. We’ve decided to go ahead with our contacts on all issues involving Syria, including the security zone Turkey will create," the daily Sabah quotes Erdogan as saying.
MANBIJ, January 8 -- Russian military police have started patrolling the surroundings of the northern Syrian city of Manbij in the Aleppo governorate, near the border with Syria.
"Today we started patrolling the security zone near the city of Manbij and its surroundings. The task is to ensure safety within the zone of responsibility, to control the positions and movement of armed groups," he said. The route of military police patrols will change regularly. According to Mamatov, during their missions Russian servicemen are receiving reports from local residents about weapons caches and unexploded ordnances left after the region’s occupation by militants.
Following the US decision to withdraw troops from Syria, groups of Kurdish Self-Defense Forces requested the Damascus government to establish control over territories they used to hold, including Manbij. According to the Syrian Defense Ministry, about 400 members of Self-Defense Forces left the city and headed to the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, where they are set to concentrate on fighting against the Islamic State terrorist group.
RIYADH, January 3 -- Saudi state media say that 11 suspects in the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi have attended their first court hearing, with prosecutors seeking the death penalty for five of them.
Thursday's brief statement from the state-run Saudi Press Agency did not name the suspects. Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, was killed on October 2 at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. He had written columns critical of Saudi Arabia's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Saudi Arabia initially denied Khashoggi was killed but acknowledged his slaying weeks later. Turkish media have published photographs of members of the crown prince's entourage at the consulate ahead of the slaying. Khashoggi's body, believed to have been dismembered, has not been found.
AZAZ, January 2 -- Turkey hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees, and as the fighting subdues, some are choosing to return home reports.
The General Director of the Bab al-Salama Border Crossing in the city of Azaz in northern Syria, Qassem al-Qassem, said that 3,421 Syrians had permanently returned to their country from Turkey over the Eid al-Adha holiday because of the security established in their areas after the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations. Qassem said in a statement carried by the Anadolu Agency that Turkish authorities had provided a chance for Syrians living in Turkey to visit their country during the holidays and then return again to Turkey. He said that in this context, tens of thousands of Syrians had visited their country during Eid al-Adha in August. He said that, “about 32,419 Syrians returned to Turkey, while 3,421 preferred to remain in their country because of the security established in their areas after the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations carried out by the Turkish army against terrorist groups in northern Syria.”
Qassem expressed his confidence that the number of Syrians returning from Turkey to their country would rise after the liberation of Manbij and Tel Rifaat from terrorist groups. During Operation Euphrates Sheild, Turkish forces and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) were able during to clear large portions of the northern Aleppo countryside, including the cities of al-Bab and Jarablus, of the Islamic State between August 2016 and March 2017, which allowed thousands of Syrians to return to their homes. On Mar. 24, 2018, The Turkish army in cooperation with the FSA was able to expel the Kurdish People’s Protection Units from Afrin entirely with Operation Olive Branch.
BAGHDAD, December 26 -- The ISIS terrorist group has kicked off a series of attacks in western and northwestern regions of Iraq, revealed security and political sources.
Examples of these attacks, were the car bombing in Tal Afar on Tuesday that left two people dead and the kidnapping of 14 civilians in Kirkuk also on Tuesday.
The developments have taken place a year since former Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s announcement that ISIS has been defeated in Iraq. An informed political source told Asharq Al-Awsat that prior to the arrival of ISIS, corruption among the military was rife in these regions. This would eventually pave the way for ISIS’ onslaught. After the liberation, however, the regions became embroiled in a struggle for power among forces that emerged victorious in the May parliamentary elections, the source said on condition of anonymity. Each of the victors alone wants to assume power, he went on to say. This dispute is being played out in parliament and government whereby the Sunni camp has been split into two: the Islah and Binaa blocs. The rivalry between them is demonstrated in the differences over ministerial portfolios. The dispute could later seep into the provinces and state agencies, he added. This rivalry could ultimately be exploited by ISIS, he warned.
Meanwhile, security expert Saeed al-Jayashi told Asharq Al-Awsat that since June, ISIS has been working on developing its media and since August, it has been upping its terror operations. He added that the Iraqi armed forces have developed high expertise in combating ISIS. The current developments, however, he warned, cannot be tackled with security measures, but through political and social means. On the Tal Afar bombing, MP Hassan Touran told Asharq Al-Awsat that the region is an important Turkmen area. It also lies inside the Nineveh province and on the volatile Syrian border.
ISIS is trying to regroup and recover its power in this region through all possible means, he warned. The security plan in place must therefore be reviewed in order to counter the organization.
ANKARA, December 25 -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent more troops to Syria’s border on Monday ahead of an imminent U.S. withdrawal, as the White House announced he had invited Donald Trump to Ankara.
Unlike several other allies of the United States, Turkey has praised President Trump’s decision to withdraw 2,000 of his ground forces from Syria, a country where it will now have a freer rein to target Kurdish fighters. On Monday Ankara sent more troops to its Syrian border and said an offensive targeting the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia and IS group will be launched in the coming months.
Turkey views the YPG as a “terrorist offshoot” of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984. But the militia has also been a key U.S. ally in the fight against Islamic State in Syria, working with American forces on the ground there. “Just as we did not leave our Syrian Arabs to Daesh (ISIS), we will not leave Syrian Kurds to the cruelty of the PKK,” Erdogan said during a speech in Ankara. A Turkish military convoy arrived overnight on Monday at the border with local media reporting that some vehicles had entered Syria.
In a telephone conversation Sunday between Trump and Erdogan, which both sides described as “productive,” they agreed to avoid a power vacuum in Syria after the U.S. withdrawal. “President Erdogan invited President Trump to visit Turkey in 2019. While nothing definite is being planned, the president is open to a potential meeting in the future,” a White House spokesperson later said on Monday evening. Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told reporters on Monday that a U.S. military delegation would arrive this week to “discuss how to coordinate (the withdrawal) with their counterparts.”
A Turkish foreign ministry delegation would go to Washington for talks early January, he added. Trump stunned the U.S. political establishment and allies last week with his decision, days after Erdogan had warned that Ankara would soon launch an offensive in northern Syria. Critics of Trump’s decision fear that thousands of Islamic State (ISIS) group extremist members are still thought to be in Syria, despite Trump’s claim of having defeated ISIS. The U.S. leader tweeted that Erdogan had told him Ankara would “eradicate” the last IS elements. And Kalin vowed that there was “no question of a step backwards, vulnerability or a slowdown in the fight against Daesh (ISIS).”
He added: “Turkey will show the same determination against Daesh. To beat Daesh, we don’t need the PKK or the YPG. We can bring peace to this region.” The Turkish military convoy with howitzers, artillery batteries and several units of the armed forces, was deployed to the border district of Elbeyli in Kilis province, state news agency Anadolu reported on Monday.
WASHINGTON, December 24 -- The order to withdraw American troops from Syria has been signed, the US military said Sunday, after President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart agreed to prevent a power vacuum in the wake of the controversial move.
The announcement that US troops would leave the civil war-racked country -- where they have been deployed to assist in the multinational fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group -- shocked global partners and American politicians alike. "The execute order for Syria has been signed," a US military spokesperson said when asked about the withdrawal order, without providing further details.
Turkey was a rare ally that lauded Trump's momentous decision on Syria, a country where it will now have a freer rein to target US-allied Kurdish fighters who have played a major role in the war against IS but are deemed terrorists by Ankara. Trump and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by telephone on Sunday and "agreed to ensure coordination between their countries' military, diplomatic and other officials to avoid a power vacuum which could result following any abuse of the withdrawal and transition phase in Syria," the Turkish presidency said in a statement. Late Sunday, Trump tweeted that Erdogan had assured him that any remaining IS fighters in Syria will be eliminated.
"President Erdogan of Turkey has very strongly informed me that he will eradicate whatever is left of ISIS in Syria," Trump said in a Tweet around midnight Sunday, using another acronym for the jihadist group. Repeating a pattern of admiring comments towards global strongmen, Trump added that Erdogan "is a man who can do it."
The US president concluded: "Our troops are coming home!"
ANKARA, December 22 -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that his country would postpone a military operation against Syrian Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria.
He "cautiously" welcomed Washington's decision to withdraw its troops in the area. Speaking during a speech in Istanbul, Erdogan said the US decision meant Turkey would "wait a little longer" before launching the operation. "Of course, this is not an open-ended waiting period," he warned, adding that Turkey was working on plans to "neutralise Daesh elements" that still exist in Syria. Daesh is the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS). Erdogan had announced on December 12 that Turkey would start an offensive in northern Syria in "the next few days", but on December 14, he spoke to US President Donald Trump in a phone call. According to Turkish daily Hurriyet on Friday, Trump decided to pull out of Syria during that call with Erdogan and ordered his national security adviser John Bolton to "start the work" to prepare withdrawing troops.
Clear ISIL, Kurdish armed groups
Erdogan also promised on Friday to clear Syria of US-backed Kurdish armed groups after the US decision to pull troops out. "In the next months, we will see an operational style aimed at removing the YPG (Kurdish People's Protection Units militia) and Daesh (ISIL) elements on the ground in Syria," Erdogan said. The Turkish government views the US-backed YPG as an extension of an armed group fighting inside Turkey.
Although Erdogan welcomed Trump's decision to leave Syria, he said he remained "cautious" because of "past negative experiences", referring to Ankara's continued disappointment over the US administration's failure to stop providing military support to the YPG in their fight against ISIL. In November last year, Turkish officials said Trump had promised not to supply weapons to the YPG, although the White House was not as explicit about its intentions. American support of the YPG, which spearheaded Washington's battles in Syria to eliminate armed groups, has long been a source of tension between the NATO allies. Meanwhile, on Friday, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is made up of an alliance of Arab and Kurdish groups, said they may not be able to hold ISIL prisoners if the situation in the region gets out of control.
Ilham Ahmed of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) warned that the Trump administration's decision to withdraw all of its forces would have dangerous repercussions and a destabilizing effect on the entire region.
ISTANBUL, December 21 -- Turkey will delay a planned offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria's northeast, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday, citing talks with the U.S. president and other officials.
Erdogan said that he welcomed President Donald Trump's decision — announced Wednesday — to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria, where they are partnered with Kurdish-led fighters to battle the Islamic State. Turkey sees Kurdish forces both at home and in Syria as a threat to its national security and warned of an impending offensive to rout them from the Turkish border. "We decided last week to launch a military incursion into the east of the Euphrates River and shared that information with the public," Erdogan said at a meeting of the Turkish Exporters Assembly in Istanbul.
"Our phone call with President Trump, along with contacts between our diplomats and security officials and statements by the United States, have led us to wait a little longer," he said, referring to a phone call between the two leaders last Friday. Still, he said, Turkey's military is planning to launch the offensive in several months, with the aim of "eliminating" both the Kurdish YPG, or People's Protection Units, and Islamic State remnants.
ALEXANDRIA, December 17 -- A one-time business partner of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has been arrested and charged with illegally lobbying to have a Turkish exile returned from the U.S.
Bijan Rafiekian, who also goes by the name Bijan Kian, made an initial appearance Monday in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. He is indicted on charges including failing to register as a foreign agent. According to the indictment, Rafiekian was vice chairman of Flynn’s business group, the Flynn Intel Group. The two worked throughout 2016 to seek ways to have cleric Fethullah Gulen extradited from the U.S. to Turkey.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Gulen of directing a failed coup. Flynn is referred to in the indictment only as “Person A.”
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