Turkish forces will target Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria and possibly Iraq, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said. The threat comes as military and rebel allies captured the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin.
The Turkish military and its Syrian rebel allies will expand their offensive against the Kurdish YPG militia further east and even into northern Iraq, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday.
Turkish and allied forces took control of the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin without resistance on Sunday after a nearly two month offensive against what Ankara has described as a "terror corridor.”
"After this, we will continue now to Manbij, Ayn al-Arab (Kobane), Tel Abyad, Ras al-Ain and Qamishli until this corridor is fully removed," Erdogan said, naming towns along Syria's border with Turkey further east.
The YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are in control of about a quarter of Syrian territory, mostly east of the Euphrates River. A Turkish-led offensive in the area could bring the NATO member up against some 2,000 US special forces supporting the SDF against the "Islamic State."
Kurdish forces strategically withdrew from Afrin alongside tens of thousands of fleeing civilians, prompting the EU and United States on Monday to issue statements of "concern" over the humanitarian situation. The YPG vowed to continue a guerrilla campaign in Afrin.
The YPG's vow came as monitors and Syrian Kurdish officials reported Turkish-backed rebels were looting in Afrin city for a second day.
Taking on the PKK in northern Iraq
Erdogan also said Turkish forces could launch an operation into northern Iraq around Sinjar, where Ankara fears the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) is setting up a major base.
Turkey has launched dozens of cross border military operations in northern Iraq against PKK bases during a nearly three decade war that has claimed some 40,000 lives. Ankara considers the YPG to be the Syrian wing of the PKK.
Erdogan said the PKK was establishing a "second Qandil" in Sinjar, a reference to PKK headquarters in the Qandil mountains of northern Iraq near the border with Iran.
Read more: Who are the Kurds?
Turkish authorities in recent weeks have been in talks with the Iraqi government about coordinating a response to the PKK in northern Iraq.
"If you (Iraqi government) are unable to handle it, we can suddenly come into Sinjar one night and clean the PKK from there. If we are friends, if we are brothers, then you will provide us with the necessary facilitations," Erdogan said.
The threat comes as both Ankara and Baghdad have had a falling out with the Iraqi Kurds in the wake of a disastrous independence referendum. Turkey has traditionally relied on Iraqi Kurds to rein in PKK activity.
Following the Afrin operation, Turkey and its rebel allies now control a slice of territory along the Syrian border from the west bank of the Euphrates to Afrin.
Last year, the Turkish military wrested control of an area east of Afrin from IS and to block Kurdish forces from connecting Afrin with their territories further east. Dubbed "Operation Euphrates Shield," it has since turned into a Turkish protectorate for rebel groups and civilians.
"If you look at Jarablus (a Syrian border town located on the western bank of the Euphrates), Erdogan has been careful to give a so-called 'good example,'" said Khaled Yacoub Oweis, a former fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP).
"If you go to Jarablus there is a post office, a functioning hospital, there is basic infrastructure that Turkey has installed. That area is mostly Sunni Arabs, which the Assad regime had long neglected," said Oweis, adding Turkey wants to show that "“it treats its proxies well."
Turkish government spokesman Bekir Bozdag said Monday that Ankara planned to established similar governing structures in Afrin and permit some of the nearly 3 million refugees in Turkey to return to Syria.
Exclusive reporting contributed by Seda Sezer Bilen
cw, dm/kl (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)