Turkey plans new 'anti-terror' offensives after Syria op: Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly lashed out at the EU after some member states blocked Turkish ministers from holding rallies ahead of the April 16 referendum on expanding the president's powers (AFP Photo/ADEM ALTAN)
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Istanbul (AFP) - Turkey is planning new offensives this spring against groups deemed terrorist organisations by Ankara, even after the completion of a half-year operation inside Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday.

Turkey announced last week that it had completed the Euphrates Shield operation in Syria, which began in August to expel Islamic State (IS) militants and Kurdish militia groups from the border area.

But Erdogan indicated that this by no means meant an end to cross-border operations by Ankara against IS and Kurdish groups classified by Turkey as terror groups, like the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

"The first stage, the Euphrates Shield operation... is over. But more will follow," Erdogan said in a speech in the Trabzon region near the Black Sea ahead of the April 16 referendum on expanding his powers.

"There is no stopping, the road continues. We are making preparations for new operations in other regions for getting to the terrorists on their hills. We will give new names to the new operations," he said.

Erdogan said IS, the PKK and also the Peoples' Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish militia, would face enduring "very nice surprises" from the spring.

The YPG is an ally of the United States in the fight against IS fighters in Syria, but is seen by Turkey as a terror group and the Syrian branch of the PKK.

"The next months with God's permission will be spring for the Turkish nation and a black winter for the terrorists," Erdogan added.

He did not specify where the new operations could take place.

Plans for a joint operation with the United States to capture the de facto IS capital of Raqa in Syria have floundered over Washington's support for the involvement of the YPG.

Turkey meanwhile wants to shunt the YPG out of the strategic Syrian town of Manbij. There has also been repeated speculation of new action to defeat the PKK in its stronghold of northern Iraq.

Analysts have said that Turkey risks being sidelined as the war in Syria enters a new phase, with the United States working with the Kurdish fighters, and Russia also open to cooperation with the YPG.

The Euphrates Shield operation which began on August 24 saw Syrian opposition fighters backed by the Turkish army recapture towns including Jarabulus, Al-Rai, Dabiq and Al-Bab.

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