Turkey threatens to expand Syria offensive, confrontation with US is possible

Turkey threatens to expand Syria offensive, confrontation with US is possible
Fri Jan 26, 2018 17:06:53

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday threatened to expand Turkey's offensive in Syria against a Kurdish militia despite calls for restraint from its Western allies.

(AFP) -- On the seventh day of the operation against the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia, Erdogan vowed to "clean up" the Syrian city of Manbij.

The United States has raised concerns over the deadly offensive, and analysts say a military confrontation between the two NATO powers is possible since the US has a military presence in Manbij.

Turkey launched operation "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 Isis extremist group in Syria, Ankara views the YPG as a terror organisation allied to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) inside Turkey.

The PKK is blacklisted by Ankara and its Western allies as a terror outfit.

Erdogan vowed in a speech in Ankara that Turkey would "continue our fight until there is no terrorist on our border", but did not elaborate.

He said the operation would last until "we reach our goals," adding: "Afterwards we will, as promised, clean up Manbij of terrorists."

Tensions between Ankara and Washington are already high but the offensive added further strain to their relationship. The two sides disagreed about the content of telephone talks between Erdogan and US President Donald Trump on Wednesday.

Washington 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 United States, which he said called for the operation to be "short" and "limited" in scope, referring to previous interventions.

Turkey continued shelling YPG positions in Afrin on Friday, state-run news agency Anadolu reported.

Erdogan said "343 terrorists have been neutralised" during the operation so 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.

The SDF is an umbrella grouping composed mainly of YPG fighters.

The Observatory has said 38 civilians have been killed mainly as a result of Turkish shelling but Ankara strongly rejects such claims, saying it is doing everything possible to avoid civilian casualties.

Othman Al-Sheikh Issa, co-chair of Afrin's executive council, on Thursday called on Syria to "say that it will not allow Turkish planes to fly in Syrian airspace".

(Photo: ekathimerini)

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