Turkey renewed airstrikes on Islamic State sites in Syria on Friday, extending operations along a 90-km (56-mile) corridor near the Turkish border which Ankara says it is clearing of militants and protecting from Kurdish militias expansion.
Turkey’s 10-day-old offensive, its first major incursion into Syria since the war started five years ago, has alarmed the West.
The United States has voiced concerns about Turkish strikes on Kurdish-aligned groups that Washington has backed in its battle against Islamic State. Germany said it did not want to see a lasting Turkish presence in an already tangled conflict.
Turkey has said it has no plans to stay in Syria and simply aims to protect its frontier from the militant group and the Kurdish YPG militia, which it sees as an extension of the outlawed Kurdish PKK group fighting an insurgency on Turkish soil.
“Nobody can expect us to allow a terror corridor on our southern border,” President Tayyip Erdogan told a news conference.
Washington says Turkish action aimed at the YPG, part of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition, risked undermining the broader goal of ridding Syria of Islamic State, which has attacked Western and Turkish targets.
Operation “Euphrates Shield”, in which Turkish troops and tanks entered Syria in support of rebels for the first time, began on Aug. 24 with the swift capture of Jarablus, a town a few km (miles) inside Syria that was held by Islamic State.
In an interview with Reuters on Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus called on the United States to put more pressure on the YPG to return east of the Euphrates river, a move that Turkey hopes would keep the Kurdish militia in check.
Securing a strip of territory on its Syrian border
Turkey wants to clear Islamic State from a 90 km (56 miles) stretch of territory on the Syrian side of its border, an official said on Wednesday.
Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the goal was to drive Islamic State from a 90 km strip of land along the border with Turkey, which has been buffeted by a spate of bombings blamed on the group that has killed scores of people.
“Starting from Jarablus, the cleansing of this region is our priority,” Kalin told a news briefing. “We have already cleansed 400 square km successfully.”
Turkey has long said it wants a “buffer zone” in the area, although it has not used the term during this incursion. As well as driving out the ultra-hardline Islamists, it also wants to prevent Kurdish militias from taking territory that will let them join up cantons they control in northeast and northwest Syria.
Last Monday, Syrian rebels said that they are advancing towards Manbij in northern Syria.
“After seizing control of the border town of Jarablus, the FSA fighters moved under Turkish air cover to control villages such as Amarna, Yousef Beq and Ain Al Baida within hours,” a journalist said.
“But their main target is to take over Manbij,” he added. “YPG fighters maintain a significant presence along that area with their local allies.”
Turkish Defence Minister Fikri Isik said preventing the Kurdish PYD party – the political arm of the YPG – from uniting Kurdish cantons east of Jarablus with those further west was a priority.
“Islamic State should be completely cleansed, this is an absolute must. But it’s not enough for us … The PYD and the YPG militia should not replace Islamic State there,” Isik told Turkish broadcaster NTV.
“The PYD’s biggest dream is to unify the western and eastern cantons. We cannot let this happen,” he said.
“If the PYD does not retreat to east of the Euphrates, we have the right to do everything about it,” the minister said.