By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) – Tens of thousands of people died because a safe zone was not implemented quickly enough in northern Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday.
Erdogan made the comments during a joint press conference with U.S. President Donald Trump following four hours of bilateral meetings that also included a sit-down with Republican senators.
Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring on Oct. 9 to eliminate YPG/PKK terrorists from northern Syria east of the Euphrates River in order to secure Turkey's borders, aid in the safe return of Syrian refugees and ensure Syria's territorial integrity.
On Oct. 17, the U.S. and Turkey came to an agreement to pause the operation to allow the withdrawal of terrorist YPG/PKK forces from the planned safe zone, where Ankara wants to repatriate millions of Syrian refugees it is currently hosting.
Turkey first requested the establishment of the safe zone during a G20 meeting in Antalya in 2015.
Erdogan said that during the operation, Turkey secured the return of 365,000 Syrians to Jarablus, the northern border town that was cleared during the operation.
The Turkish president added that it is "regrettable" that YPG/PKK leader Ferhat Abdi Sahin, also known as Mazloum Kobane, is taken seriously by Washington.
Erdogan said Sahin is a "terrorist who caused the deaths of hundreds of Turkish people" and is like an adopted son to jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan.
Turkey views Sahin as a terrorist linked to the PKK, whose Syrian branch is the YPG. The PKK is a designated terrorist group in both the U.S. and Turkey as well as the European Union.
Erdogan reiterated that Turkey "has no problem with Kurds" and only takes issue with terrorist organizations.
Turning to the anti-Daesh fight, Trump said Turkey is helping "a lot" in the effort, capturing all Daesh/ISIS militants escaping prisons controlled by the YPG/PKK.
Erdogan added that "Turkey and the U.S. can work together to bring peace, stability to Syria and completely finish" the Daesh/ISIS terror organization.
In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK has been responsible for the deaths of 40,000 people, including women, children and infants.
*Beyza Binnur Donmez contributed to this story from Ankara