ISTANBUL, Turkey — Turkey on Sunday threatened to expand its operation against Kurdish militia fighters in Syria to the town of Manbij and even east of the Euphrates, warning that American soldiers risked being targeted in the area if they wore enemy uniforms.
Turkey on January 20 launched the “Olive Branch” operation in the northern Syrian region of Afrin, fighting Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia which Ankara sees as a terror group.
With the YPG a key ally of Washington in the battle against jihadists, the campaign has seen a fellow NATO partner of the United States fighting an openly US-backed and US-armed force.
Beyond the northwestern enclave of Afrin, the YPG also controls the key strategic town of Manbij to the east and a long strip of territory east of the Euphrates up to the Iraqi border.
“If they (the YPG) do not withdraw from Manbij, then we will go to Manbij, we will go east of the Euphrates,” Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag told CNN-Turk.
American troops have no presence in and around Afrin but they are present in Manbij and east of the Euphrates, where they have assisted the YPG in the fight against IS.
Bozdag emphasized that Turkey wanted no confrontation with American troops but said US soldiers risked being caught up in clashes if they appeared in uniforms of the YPG.
This appeared to be a reference to past images of American troops in northern Syria showing them with YPG insignia.
“We do not at all want any clash with the US in Manbij, east of the Euphrates or in any other place,” said Bozdag.
“But the US has to be aware of Turkey’s sensitivities. If US soldiers wear terrorist uniforms or are among the terrorists in the event of an attack against the army then there is not going to be the chance to make a distinction,” he said.
“If they come up against us in such a uniform we will see them as… terrorists.”
There have been heavy clashes with the YPG in the Afrin campaign so far and Bozdag was speaking after seven Turkish troops were killed on Saturday, including five in a tank attack, the heaviest single day loss of the campaign so far.
Pro-government Turkish media said the tank attack was carried out with an anti-tank missile given to the YPG by the US, but this has yet to be confirmed.
“The supposed ally the United States knows no limit in treachery,” said the Yeni Akit daily.