Turkish troops and Free Syrian Army fighters have "besieged" the Daesh-held town of Al-Bab in northern Syria and are now "on the verge of capturing it," President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday.
"Our forces along with the Free Syrian Army [fighters] have reached the [town] center. And the Daesh forces are now in the process of leaving Al-Bab," he told a press conference at Ataturk International Airport ahead of his departure for Bahrain, the first leg of his four-day, three-nation Gulf tour.
Erdogan reiterated that Turkey does not have any plans to stay in Syria after Daesh is wiped out, saying Turkey's only goal is to "clear this region of terrorism".
Turkey has been carrying out a military operation in northern Syria since last August. Led by Free Syrian Army fighters, the Operation Euphrates Shield, aims to improve security, support coalition forces, and eliminate the terror threat along the Turkish border backed by Turkish artillery and jets.
The operation has focused on the Daesh-held town of Al-Bab since early December.
"Al-Bab is about to be captured. Manbij and Raqqah are next," Erdogan said, adding their number one priority was to form a safe zone in the country.
"The goal is to establish a safe, terror-free zone of 4 to 5,000 kilometers, and to prevent migration from Syria, and ensure the return of [Syrian] people who live now in our camps.
"Of course, in order to do this, we also would like to almost build new cities there. I have shared this with Mr. Trump and coalition forces, including Germany in particular," he added.
The next step is to establish a no-fly zone, Erdogan said. "Then they [the Syrians] will be able to establish their national army and feel themselves safe."
"The train-and-equip program is also of utmost importance," he noted, saying the "FSA is one such army trained and equipped as part of this program," carried out by Turkey and the U.S.
Upcoming constitutional change referendum
As for the April 16 referendum on key constitutional reforms, Erdogan said that the outcome of the referendum would be an answer to last July's failed coup adding those who vote "No" would be standing by the perpetrators of the foiled attempt.
The constitutional changes have been discussed since Erdogan was voted president in August 2014. The 18-article bill was passed by parliament in January, with 339 votes in favor -- nine more than needed to put the proposals to a referendum that will be held on Apr. 16.
The reforms would hand wide-ranging executive powers to the president and the post of prime minister would be abolished. The president would also be allowed to retain ties to a political party.
Other changes would see the minimum age for parliamentary candidates reduced to 18 and the number of deputies rise to 600. Simultaneous parliamentary and presidential elections for a five-year term would be held in November 2019 under the new constitution.
First official visit to Bahrain
Erdogan also commented on his first official visit to Bahrain since he became president, saying he would meet with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to discuss bilateral economic relations as well as other issues including defense.
The trip is part of Turkey’s drive to forge economic ties across the Gulf countries including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.