Turkey 'to expand Syria op' to other Kurdish-held towns

Turkish forces and their rebel allies took control of the Kurdish-majority city of Afrin on March 18

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday vowed to expand Turkey's Syria campaign to other Kurdish-held areas up to the Iraqi border, a day after ousting Kurdish militia from their former enclave of Afrin.

Indicating there was no plan for the Turkish army to call off offensive, Erdogan described the taking of Afrin as merely a "comma" and also warned Turkey could launch a surprise attack on Kurdish rebel strongholds in Iraq.

He said the Turkish campaign in Syria, conducted in tandem with allied Syrian forces, could now extend up to Qamishli, the most easterly Syrian town held by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) before the Iraqi border.

"Now we will continue this process until we entirely eliminate this corridor, including in Manbij, Ayn al-Arab, Tel-Abyad, Ras al-Ayn and Qamishli," Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara.

Manbij, the next main YPG-held town east of Afrin is a particular flashpoint as there is a US military presence there, raising the risk of confrontation between the NATO allies.

Ayn al-Arab is the border town known as Kobane in Kurdish, of symbolic importance as it was the epicentre of a struggle with Islamic State (IS) jihadists.

- Warning Iraq's Sinjar -

The YPG is seen by the United States as a key player in the fight against Islamic State jihadists. But Turkey brands it a terrorist group.

Turkey sees the YPG as a Syrian offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.

Most of Afrin's 350,000 residents have fled since Turkey and allied Syrian rebels launched an air and ground offensive on January 20 to root out the YPG.

The capture of the city is seen a major step forwards for Turkey as it seeks to bolster its control along the border in northern Syria.

Erdogan described Afrin's capture after almost two months as a "major stage" of the operation, codenamed Olive Branch. But he said more would come.

"We marked a comma. God willing a full stop will come next."

But he insisted that Turkey "has no intention of being occupiers" in Syria and only wanted to remove the threat posed by the "terrorists."

He also evoked a possible operation against PKK camps in Iraq's Sinjar region, saying this could come any time.

Erdogan said he had told the Iraqi authorities in Baghdad to deal with PKK camps there, warning Sinjar risked becoming one of the group's strongholds, like the Qandil mountain area.

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

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