Erdogan vows to expand Syria offensive despite US warnings

Ankara (AFP): President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened on Friday to expand Turkey’s offensive in Syria against a Kurdish militia, despite calls for restraint from its Western allies.

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.

Mr Erdogan’s comments to officials of his ruling party underline how the offensive launched last week risks embroiling the US in a new front in the seven-year Syrian civil war.

US president Donald Trump this week warned Mr Erdogan not to attack Manbij because of the presence of American forces in the area. But after the telephone conversation between the two leaders, Bekir Bozdag, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, said Ankara would target not only Kurdish militants but also their backers.

“Those who support the terrorist organisation will become a target in this battle,” he said. “The United States needs to review its soldiers and elements giving support to terrorists on the ground in such a way as to avoid a confrontation with Turkey.”

Ankara views the militia as a terrorist organisation that poses a threat to its national security and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ party, which has waged a more than three-decade insurgency against Turkey.

It also fears that the Kurds want to capitalise on the gains they have made in the battle against Isis to carve out an autonomous region south of Turkey’s border.

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