ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey's president said Tuesday his country has finalized plans for a "comprehensive and effective" operation that would target U.S.-backed Kurdish militia in Syria east of the Euphrates River, a move that could further increase tension in the area where U.S.-led coalition forces are based.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan's remarks came days after the Turkish military shelled Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, militia positions and following repeated warnings to expand Ankara's operations to northeastern Syria.
Turkish forces have already forced the Syrian Kurdish forces from west of the Euphrates in two cross-border operations, in 2016 and 2018. Ankara considers the militia a terror threat and an extension of Kurdish rebels waging an insurgency within Turkey.
"Soon, we will descend on them with more comprehensive and effective" force, said Erdogan, who has long vowed to clear all of northern Syria of the militia. He spoke to ruling party legislators.
The official Anadolu news agency said Turkish artillery strikes Sunday hit Kurdish trenches and positions on a hill in the village of Zor Moghar, in northern Aleppo province.
American support for Kurdish-led forces to combat Islamic State militants has incensed Turkey. Washington and Ankara agreed over the summer to a deal that would effectively push the Kurdish militia out of a key northern Syrian town, relieving some tension between the two NATO members.
Under the deal, American and Turkish troops would jointly patrol Manbij, which lies west of the Euphrates. Turkey's defense minister, Hulusi Akar, said in comments carried by Anadolu that the patrols would begin as soon as training is completed. After Mabij, Turkey's "point of work, field" would be the region east of the Euphrates, he said.
It's unclear how a potential Turkish offensive east of the Euphrates would affect U.S. troops operating with Kurdish fighters there.
Associated Press writer Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul contributed to this report.