TURKEY

Turkey ready to take over counter-terror fight in Syria as US withdraws, Erdoğan says

Turkey is ready to assume counter-terrorism role after the U.S. leaves Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Thursday.

"Turkey is ready to take over responsibility in fight against terrorist groups in [Syria] areas which the U.S. will withdraw from," Erdoğan said during his address at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American-Turkish Council.

U.S. President Donald Trump made the unexpected decision in December to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, drawing criticism from many allies and security aides, including his own Cabinet.

"The recent initiative that Trump took in Syria ruined the plans of those who are trying to axe the Turkey-U.S. relations," Erdoğan said.

Turkey is "determined" to fight against all terrorist groups, particularly Daesh, threatening itself, the region and the world, he added.

On the bilateral relations, Erdoğan said that the two NATO allies have successfully overcome all problems and the resistance tests.

The president also said Turkey and the U.S. have a strong, comprehensive and strategic alliance based on common interests.

'Kurdish brothers shelter only in Turkey'

Reiterating his call for distinguishing the Kurds from the PKK/PYD terrorists, Erdoğan said identifying PKK/PYD terrorist group with local residents is a "biggest insult" against the Kurds.

Turkish officials strongly condemned the U.S. conflation of Kurds with the terror group, saying a forthcoming Turkish operation in northern Syria would target the terrorist group which threatens the Arabs, Turkmens, and Kurds alike in Syria.

"Our Kurdish brothers, who are now fleeing Daesh attacks and PKK/PYD persecution, shelter only in Turkey," Erdoğan said.

Erdoğan said it was not possible to understand support for "these killers".

He added 23,000 trucks loaded with weapons and ammunition were recently brought to the terror group in northern Syria.

"However, the U.S. still does not accept them as a terrorist organization," Erdoğan said.

On a possible safe zone in Syria, Erdoğan reiterated he supports the idea of establishing a terror-free zone for refugees to safely return home.

He also called for establishing container cities for refugees in Syria's safe zones.

When Trump proposed the idea of a terror-free safe zone in northern Syria, U.S. officials demanded Turkey guarantee that it will not conduct an operation against terrorist group YPG/PKK.

Turkey backed the idea of a safe zone in Syria, while it opposed the U.S. request for protection of the terrorists.

The PYD is the Syrian branch of PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU. In its 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the terrorist group has taken some 40,000 lives, including women and children.

Turkey's fight against FETÖ

About Turkey's fight against the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), Erdoğan said Ankara expects the U.S. to take necessary steps "as soon as possible" over the terrorist group behind the July 15, 2016 defeated coup in Turkey.

The president said Turkey and its families of martyrs get hurt since US-based FETÖ leader Fetullah Gulen have moved on with his life in Pennsylvania "as if nothing happens".

FETÖ and Gulen orchestrated the 2016 defeated coup, which left 251 people martyred and nearly 2,200 injured.

Ankara accuses FETÖ of being behind a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police and judiciary.

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