MANBIJ, Syria: Turkey vowed to press ahead with its offensive in northern Syria on Tuesday despite US sanctions and growing calls for it to stop, while Syria’s Russia-backed army moved on the key city of Manbij that was abandoned by US forces.
“They say ‘declare a ceasefire’. We will never declare a ceasefire,” Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told reporters after a visit to Baku.
“They are pressuring us to stop the operation. They are announcing sanctions. Our goal is clear. We are not worried about any sanctions.”
Erdogan said an attack from Manbij that killed one Turkish soldier was launched by Syrian government forces.
Russian and Syrian flags were flying from a building on the city outskirts and from a convoy of military vehicles.
Russia’s Interfax news agency, citing Moscow’s Defense Ministry, said later that Syrian forces had taken control of an area of more than 1,000 square kilometres around Manbij, including Tabqa military airfield.
US President Donald Trump’s unexpected decision to withhold protection from Syria’s Kurds after a phone call with Erdogan a week ago swiftly upended five years of US policy on Syria.
As well as clearing the way for the Turkish incursion, the US withdrawal gives a free hand to Washington’s adversaries in the world’s deadliest ongoing war, namely Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies.
The Syrian army deployments into Kurdish-held territory amount to a victory for Assad and Russia, giving them a foothold in the biggest remaining swathe of Syria that had been beyond their grasp through much of its eight-year-old war.
The United States announced on Sunday it was withdrawing its entire force of 1,000 troops from northern Syria. Its former Kurdish allies immediately forged a new alliance with Assad’s government, inviting the army into towns across their territory.
US military aircraft carried out a “show of force” around the town of Kobani after Turkish-backed fighters came close to American forces.
US Vice President Mike Pence will meet Erdogan on Thursday in Ankara.
“Vice President Pence will reiterate President Trump’s commitment to maintaining punishing economic sanctions on Turkey until a resolution is reached,” the White House said in a statement.
After Trump announced a set of sanctions on Monday to punish Ankara, US prosecutors hit Turkey with charges on the majority state-owned Halkbank for taking part in a multibillion-dollar scheme to evade US sanctions against Iran.
A senior Trump administration official said Washington would threaten more sanctions to persuade Turkey to reach a ceasefire and halt its offensive.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a loyal Trump supporter who has nevertheless been highly critical of the president’s troop withdrawal, said he would introduce a bill on Thursday to impose tougher sanctions on Turkey.
The Turkish lira, which had fallen on the expectation of tougher US measures, recovered after the sanctions were announced, as did its bond and stock markets, with traders noting that Trump had spared Turkish banks.