President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticized a recent statement by the U.S. State Department on the Afrin operation, saying that the U.S. ignored Turkey's concerns when they were first conveyed by officials and is now complaining about the ongoing anti-terror operation, which liberated the Syrian border town from PKK-linked People's Protection Units (YPG) terrorists.
"They say now that they're concerned in Afrin. Where were you when we conveyed our concerns, when we asked you to clear terrorist groups together?" Erdoğan told a parliamentary group meeting of the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) in Ankara.
Erdoğan said Washington needs to respect Turkey if it sees the country as a "strategic ally" and accused the U.S. of attempting to deceive Turkish authorities by continuing to provide YPG with weaponry.
"You did not give us weapons when we asked for them but gave them to terrorists instead. Now, that ammunition is in our possession."
Erdoğan said, "If we are strategic partners, then you will respect us. [...] You have tried to deceive us."
The U.S. has sent 5,000 truck-loads of weapons to terror groups in Syria, Erdoğan recalled.
"We wanted weapons from you [U.S.] in return for money. You did not give us, but you gave these weapons and ammunition to terror organizations for free.
"What kind of partnership is this?" he asked.
"We are now demolishing all of these [tunnels and weapons and ammunition depots]. […] All that ammunition is being seized by us gradually."
"We have taken under control of the city center [of Afrin] within 2 months," Erdoğan noted.
Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20 to clear terrorist groups from Afrin in northwestern Syria amid growing threats posed from the region. On Sunday, Turkish-backed troops liberated the town of Afrin, which had been a major hideout for the PKK's Syrian offshoot the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing the People's Protection Units (YPG) since 2012.
Erdoğan also announced that the total number of terrorists "neutralized" in Operation Olive Branch has reached 3,647 as of Tuesday.
"The Turkish forces and Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters will continue with Afrin operation to clear explosives and mines and to secure and stabilize the city," the president said once again, highlighting Turkey's determination to proceed with the operation until all terror threats are eliminated on its borders.
On Monday, U.S. Department of State spokesperson Heather Nauert said the U.S. was "deeply concerned" about the humanitarian situation in Afrin, claiming that Turkey's operation may obstruct the fight against Daesh terrorists.
Turkey's foreign ministry responded by saying that Turkey has taken all necessary measures to ensure that civilians are protected and humanitarian assistance is provided to the civilian population. The ministry also said using the People's Protection Units (YPG) terrorist group against Daesh and allowing the group push forward its separatist agenda is what actually undermines the combat against terrorism.
The U.S.' partnership with the YPG has been a significant disagreement between Washington and Ankara, as Turkey argues that a terror group cannot be used to defeat another one. In addition, the weaponry given to the YPG, which Ankara says is directly linked to the PKK terrorist group, can be transferred to PKK terrorists, and ultimately used against its citizens.
The PKK is listed as a terrorist group by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU. Still, the U.S. continues to supply truckloads of weapons to the YPG in Syria, beginning with former President Barack Obama's term. After Ankara's repeated concerns, the U.S. administration, under the term of President Donald Trump, said they would collect the weapons given to the YPG. Yet, this promise made to Ankara has not been kept, Turkish officials say.
Turkey and the U.S. have been trying to iron out a number of issues, principally those concerning the terrorist YPG/PKK in Syria, a group the U.S. has so far worked with, calling it a "reliable ally" in the fight against Daesh.
Turkey has strongly protested the U.S. collaboration with the YPG, categorically stating that it is the Syrian branch of the PKK, a terrorist group also recognized by the U.S. and the EU. The PKK, in its longer than three-decade terror campaign against Turkey, has taken some 40,000 lives, including those of women and children.