President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday threatened to expand Turkey's offensive against the Afrin region in Syria to other cities in the country's north to remove the presence of the Syrian Kurdish militia that Ankara views as terrorists.
"We will continue our fight until there is no terrorist on our border leading to Iraq," Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara, vowing to "clean up" the city of Manbij, east of Afrin, also held by the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia.
Turkey launched its military operation dubbed "Olive Branch" against the YPG on Saturday, supporting Syrian rebels with ground troops, air strikes and artillery fire.
While the YPG is still working closely with Washington against the Islamic State extremist group in Syria, Ankara views the YPG as a terror group allied to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) inside Turkey.
The PKK is blacklisted by Ankara and its Western allies as a terror outfit.
The seven-day offensive has seen Washington's Nato ally Ankara attacking a US-allied force, even raising fears of military confrontation between two alliance powers since the US has a military presence in Manbij.
Erdogan promised the operation would continue until "we reach our goals," adding: "After we will, as promised, clean up Manbij of terrorists."
Tensions between Ankara and Washington are already high but the operation added further strain to the allies' relationship. The two sides disagreed about the content of telephone talks between Erdogan and US President Donald Trump late on Wednesday.
The US said Trump had urged Turkey to "limit its military actions" but a Turkish official said the US statement did "not accurately reflect the content" of the call.
Erdogan criticised Turkey's allies, including the US, who have called, he said, for the operation to be "short" and "limited" in scope, referring to previous interventions.
"How long has Afghanistan lasted? Nearly 20 years. How long has it lasted in Iraq? Nearly 18 years!" he thundered.
Erdogan added that "343 terrorists were neutralised" during the operation thus far. It was not possible to independently verify the toll.
Three Turkish soldiers have been killed since the start of the offensive, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said 58 Ankara-backed Syrian rebels and 53 US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and YPG fighters had been killed.
Turkey's health minister said on Friday that 14 Turkish soldiers and Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels were killed and another 130 people were wounded following Turkey's incursion into Syria's Afrin region.
Speaking to reporters after visiting wounded soldiers in hospitals, Ahmet Demircan said three Turkish soldiers and 11 fighters from Turkey-backed FSA factions have been killed so far in clashes in northern Syria.
He said 130 people had been brought to Turkish hospitals and that 82 of them had been released after receiving treatment. None of the wounded were in critical condition, he said, adding that additional medical personnel were sent to the area.
Syrians who were injured during the Turkish offensive against Afrin receive treatment at a hospital in Afrin.
On Saturday, Turkey launched an offensive against the Kurdish YPG militia, which it views as a security threat, in Syria's Afrin, opening a new front in the multi-sided Syrian civil war and further straining ties with its Nato ally Washington.
Dozens of combatants and more than two dozen civilians have been killed so far in the offensive, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, has said.
The Turkish military said in a statement on Friday it had killed at least 343 militants in northern Syria since the operation started.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) however, a YPG-dominated umbrella group backed by the United States in the fight against Islamic State, has previously said that Turkey was exaggerating the number of the dead.Last updated: January 26 2018 02:04 PM