Turkey has cleared Islamic State, Kurdish force from area of north Syria: Erdogan

Reuters , Friday 2 Sep 2016

A member of Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), seen with a mural of the Islamic State in the background, stands guard in front of a building in the border town of Jarablus, Syria, August 31, 2016 (Photo: Reuters)

Turkey has swept Islamic State (IS) militant group and the Kurdish YPG militia from an area of northern Syria, but Syrian Kurdish forces have still not met a Turkish demand to withdraw to the east of the Euphrates river, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday.

Turkey launched a cross-border offensive into Syria last week, saying it had a dual aim of driving away jihadists and ensuring Kurdish forces did not fill the void that was left by extending their control of territory along Turkey's border.

Turkey is concerned that Syrian Kurdish fighters could embolden Kurdish militants waging an insurgency on its soil.

The United States has been alarmed by Turkey's offensive against Kurdish forces, which Washington has supported. U.S. officials have urged Ankara to focus its attacks on IS instead.

Erdogan told a news conference early on Friday morning that the operation dubbed "Euphrates Shield" had been successful in clearing IS and Kurdish YPG from a 400 sq km (150 square mile) area.

But he dismissed claims that the Kurdish YPG, which Ankara calls a terrorist group, had withdrawn to a Kurdish-controlled canton to the east of the Euphrates River. The YPG says it has done so and U.S. officials agree that is mostly the case.

"At the moment, they are saying the YPG has crossed," Erdogan said. "We are saying no they didn't. The proof depends on our own observation."

The Kurdish YPG is part of a broader U.S.-backed coalition in Syria, called the Syrian Democratic Forces. Washington has supported the group in its battle against IS but Ankara sees it as an extension of the PKK, the outlawed Kurdish militant group in Turkey.

"Nobody can expect us to allow a terror corridor on our southern border," Erdogan said, adding that said Turkey had sought the establishment of a "safe zone" in Syria, but said the idea had not received the backing of other world powers.

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