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Erdogan vows to expand Syria offensive to eastern regions

Iran Press TV

Mon Mar 19, 2018 05:50PM

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to further expand military operations against Kurdish militants in Syria to the eastern parts of the Arab country, even threatening to send troops to northern Iraq if Baghdad could not clear the region of the militants.

Speaking in Ankara a day after Turkish forces and their allies stormed and captured the northwestern Syrian city of Afrin, Erdogan said on Monday that his country's military would target the Syrian city of Manbij, as well as Ayn al-Arab or Kobani, and towns along the border to the east of the Euphrates River.

"Now we will continue this process until we entirely eliminate this corridor, including in Manbij, Ayn al-Arab, Tal Abyad, Ra's al-Ayn and Qamishli," Erdogan said in his speech.

Indicating that there was no plan for the Turkish army to call off the cross-border "Operation Olive Branch" against members of the US-backed People's Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, Erdogan described the taking of Afrin as merely a "comma" and warned of a surprise attack on Kurdish militant-held areas in northern Iraq.

Ankara views the YPG as the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militant group that has been fighting for an autonomous region inside Turkey since 1984.

During the speech on Monday, the Turkish president said his troops could cross into Iraq to drive out the PKK from the region of Sinjar in the country's north if Baghdad government was reluctant to oust the Kurdish militants from the area.

"If (Baghdad) cannot, we may turn up in Sinjar suddenly one night and clean up the PKK there," Erdogan said.

Ankara launched the Afrin offensive on January 20 after the United States said it sought to create a 30,000-strong force near the Turkish border in Syria with the help of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militant group, which is mainly comprised of YPG forces.

The Syrian government has already condemned the Turkish offensive against Afrin as an act of aggression. Over 280 civilians have lost their lives since the offensive began, according to the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

The UK-based monitor group also reported on Monday that militants with the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) had gone on a rampage in Afrin, pillaging shops and homes after capturing the city.

The FSA members broke into shops, restaurants and houses and left with foodstuff, electronic equipment, blankets and other goods, according to the SOHR report.

"Operation Olive Branch" is Turkey's second major military intervention in Syria during the unprecedented foreign-backed militancy that broke out in the Arab country in 2011.

In August 2016, Turkey began a unilateral military intervention in northern Syria, code-named Operation Euphrates Shield, sending tanks and warplanes across the border. Ankara claimed that its military campaign was aimed at pushing the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group from Turkey's border with Syria and stopping the advance of Kurdish militants, who were themselves fighting Daesh.

Turkey ended its campaign in northern Syria in March 2017, but at the time did not rule out the possibility of yet another military offensive inside the Arab country.

Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. The Syrian government says the Israeli regime and its Western and regional allies are aiding Takfiri terrorist groups that are wreaking havoc in the country.

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