Istanbul: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday vowed to expand Turkey’s offensive in Syria against Kurdish militia to key border towns controlled by the group right up to the Iraqi frontier.
Turkey launched its operation seeking to oust Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia from the Afrin region of northern Syria on January 20 and Erdogan said Thursday its forces could now enter Afrin town at “any moment”.
But Ankara has always threatened to expand the operation to the east to oust the YPG from the swathe of territory it controls right up to Iraq.
Speaking to supporters in the city of Mersin, Erdogan said the Turkish army and allied Syrian rebels wanted to oust the YPG from all the towns they control close to the Turkish border.
“Once we have purged the terrorists (from Afrin) we will then cleanse them from Manbij, Ain Al Arab, Tel Abyad, Ras Al Ain and Qamishli,” he said in televised comments.
Manbij, the next main YPG-held town east of Afrin, is a particular flashpoint as it has an American military presence there.
Ain Al Arab, better known by its Kurdish name Kobani, has huge symbolic importance as it was the epicentre of a struggle with Daesh which was eventually won by the Kurds.
Qamishli is seen as the main town of the YPG-controlled region.
Turkey regards the YPG as a terror group and a branch of militants in Turkey who have waged an insurgency for decades.
The United States however has worked closely with the YPG in the fight against Daesh and the campaign has raised tensions with Turkey’s Nato ally Washington.
Erdogan questioned why Nato had not come to Turkey’s aid in its Syria operation when Ankara had backed critical alliance campaigns worldwide.
“Hey Nato where are you?” Erdogan asked. “We came in response to the calls on Afghanistan, Somalia and the Balkans, and now I am making the call, let’s go to Syria. Why don’t you come?”
On Saturday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the Turkish forces were now four kilometres from Afrin town.