March 28, 2018 / 5:09 PM / 8 months ago

Turkey says will take action if militants do not leave Syria's Manbij

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey will take action if militants do not withdraw immediately from Syria’s Manbij region and areas in the country east of the Euphrates, Turkey’s National Security Council said on Wednesday.

Turkey, which stormed the northern Syrian town of Afrin last week after a two-month offensive against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, has repeatedly threatened to push its operations further east to Manbij where U.S. troops are stationed.

Expanding Turkey’s military campaign into the much larger Kurdish-held territory further east, which President Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to do, would risk confrontation between the NATO allies who have been at loggerheads over the U.S. policy in Syria and other issues.

“In the meeting, it is stated that the terrorists in Manbij should be removed from the area, otherwise Turkey will not hesitate to take initiative by itself as it did in other regions,” the statement from the security council, chaired by Erdogan, said.

It said the same approach also applied to the militants on Syrian soil at the east of Euphrates, without elaborating where that would specifically apply to, or who it might target.

Turkey considers the YPG to be an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the state, and has been infuriated by the support Washington has provided the Syrian Kurdish fighters.

The Council said it also expected Iraq’s government to prevent the PKK operating in Iraq, especially in towns of Sinjar and Qandil. If that was not possible Turkey would prevent them itself, the council added.

“In the meeting it is stated that aside from Syria, Turkey expects Iraq to prevent operations by the separatist terrorist organization in its territory and if it is not possible Turkey will prevent them by itself,” the council statement said using the term it applies to PKK.

On Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Iraqi armed forces would prevent Kurdish militants based in northern Iraq from staging cross-border attacks against Turkey during a phone call with his Turkish counterpart.

Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Alison Williams

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