PRESIDENT Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed Monday to expand Turkey’s military campaign in Syria to other Kurdish-held areas.
The promise comes a day after pro-Ankara fighters ousted rival militias from their former enclave of Afrin.
Erdogan described the capture of Afrin as merely a “comma” and also warned Turkey could launch a surprise attack on Kurdish rebel strongholds in Iraq.The comments came as other Turkish officials insisted that there was no intention to permanently occupy the northern Syrian city. Red Cross officials, however, expressed doubts about Turkey’s intentions and demanded access. The US State Department also called for humanitarian organisations to be allowed into the city.
In the disorder that followed the taking of the city, at least 11 people were killed on Monday and there was looting of shops. Turkey blamed the deaths – seven civilians and four Free Syrian Army fighters – on a bomb it said was planted by terrorists, saying it exploded while Turkish-led fighters conducted a search following the culmination of the effort to drive out Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) forces. Some 350,000 residents have fled since an air and ground offensive began on January 20.
Turkey considers the YPG to be an extension of the militant PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) that is fighting an insurgency on its home territory. Mr Erdogan’s forces could now head toward Qamishli, the most easterly Syrian town held by the YPG before the Iraqi border.
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.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor based in Britain, meanwhile, said the Turkey-allied fighters had been looting Afrin since they took control of the area and raised their flags in the centre on Sunday.
The incoming troops faced little resistance from the Kurdish militia, which withdrew but vowed a “new phase” of guerrilla tactics against Turkish troops and their allies.