President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday threatened to expand Turkey’s offensive against the Afrin region in Syria to other cities in the country’s north to remove the presence of the Syrian Kurdish militia that Ankara views as terrorists.
“We will continue our fight until there is no terrorist on our border leading to Iraq,” Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara, vowing to “clean up” the city of Manbij, east of Afrin, also held by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia.
Turkey launched its military operation dubbed “Olive Branch” against the YPG on Saturday, supporting Syrian rebels with ground troops, air strikes and artillery fire.
While the YPG is still working closely with Washington against the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Ankara views the YPG as a terror group allied to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) inside Turkey.
The PKK is blacklisted by Ankara and its Western allies as a terror outfit.
The seven-day offensive has seen Washington’s NATO ally Ankara attacking a US-allied force, even raising fears of military confrontation between two alliance powers since the US has a military presence in Manbij.
Erdogan promised the operation would continue until “we reach our goals,” adding: “After we will, as promised, clean up Manbij of terrorists.”
Tensions between Ankara and Washington are already high but the operation added further strain to the allies’ relationship. The two sides disagreed about the content of telephone talks between Erdogan and US President Donald Trump late on Wednesday.
The US said Trump had urged Turkey to “limit its military actions” but a Turkish official said the US statement did “not accurately reflect the content” of the call.
Erdogan criticised Turkey’s allies, including the US, who have called, he said, for the operation to be “short” and “limited” in scope, referring to previous interventions.
“How long has Afghanistan lasted? Nearly 20 years. How long has it lasted in Iraq? Nearly 18 years!” he thundered.
Erdogan added that “343 terrorists were neutralised” during the operation thus far. It was not possible to independently verify the toll.
Three Turkish soldiers have been killed since the start of the offensive, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said 58 Ankara-backed Syrian rebels and 53 US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and YPG fighters had been killed.