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Erdogan vows no let-up in Syria campaign as US tensions rise

Antakya, Turkey | AFP | President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday vowed Turkey’s campaign against a Kurdish militia in northern Syria would press on for as long as required, after telephone talks with Donald Trump failed to douse soaring tensions with Washington.

The six-day campaign against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) has seen Washington’s fellow NATO member Ankara attacking a US-allied force, even raising fears of military confrontation between two alliance powers.

After the Turkish and US presidents spoke late on Wednesday, the White House said Trump had urged Turkey “to de-escalate, limit its military actions”, expressing concern that the assault could harm the fight against jihadists.

But a Turkish official said the US statement did “not accurately reflect the content” of the call.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu even suggested that the US statement had been concocted in advance of the talks.

On his first visit to troops in the southern Turkish border region of Hatay since the campaign began, Erdogan emphasised that operation Olive Branch “will continue until the result is reached”.

Turkey launched an offensive against the YPG militia on Saturday in their enclave of Afrin, supporting Syrian rebels with air strikes and ground troops.

The local authority in Afrin on Thursday called on Syria to intervene to stop Turkish warplanes flying overheard.

Damascus should “say that it will not allow Turkish planes to fly in Syrian airspace,” said Othman Al-Sheikh Issa, co-chair of Afrin’s executive council.

– ‘Continue east of the Euphrates’ –
Ankara views the YPG as a terror group linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) inside Turkey, which is blacklisted by Ankara and its Western allies.

But the YPG is still working closely with Washington against the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria.

Quoted by the presidency, Erdogan said that once the “cleansing of terrorists” is completed in Afrin, the area will be handed back to its “principal residents”.

“Turkey does not have its eye on another country’s territory,” he was quoted as saying.

Further raising the stakes, Ankara has also floated an operation on Manbij, a YPG-held town to the east where there is a US military presence, and even to areas east of the Euphrates up to the Iraqi border.

“The second phase will be Manbij and after that, the east of the Euphrates,” Erdogan’s senior adviser Ilnur Cevik said.

With Europe also concerned, Germany has asked for talks at NATO over the campaign and also put a temporary halt on arms deals with Turkey, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said.

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