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Erdogan: Turkey to launch East of Euphrates operation 'any moment'

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters in Konya, Turkey, on December 17, 2018. (Photo by Reuters)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his country’s military is possible to start a new operation against US-backed Kurdish militants in Syria at “any moment.”

Erdogan said during a speech in Turkey's central province of Konya on Monday that the army had completed preparations for a planned operation in the east of the Euphrates River -- a territory held by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), considered by Turkey a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting for an autonomous region inside Turkey since 1984.

"We can start our operation any moment now in the Syrian territory at any place especially along the 500-kilometer border, without harming the US soldiers," the Turkish president said in his address.

Erdogan said US President Donald Trump had given a positive response to Ankara’s plans for the operation in the area and that Turkey would do "what is necessary" regarding what he described as terror corridors east of the Euphrates.

"We talked to Trump. These terrorists have to leave areas east of the Euphrates. If they do not leave, we will dispatch them. Because they are disturbing us," he noted.

The possible anti-terror operation, which Turkey's leadership has been suggesting for months, follows two cross-border Turkish operations into Syria – Operation Euphrates Shield in August 2016 and Operation Olive Branch in January 2018 – which were launched with the declared aim of eradicating the presence of Kurdish militants and Daesh terrorists near Turkey’s borders.

Turkey ended its campaign in northern Syria in March 2017, but at the time did not rule out the possibility of yet another military offensive inside the Arab country.

Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu was quoted as saying earlier in the day that Washington had tried to hold Turkey back during operations against Daesh and the YPG in Syria over the last two years.

"The United States thought it could deter us with the men it has nurtured," Soylu said during a visit to Pakistan, state-owned news agency Anadolu reported. "Now, they will try to hold us back east of the Euphrates. Turkey did not, and will not, allow that."

Turkey has been infuriated by US support for the YPG, which forms the backbone of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an anti-Damascus alliance of predominantly Kurdish militants.

Syrian Kurdish members of the People's Protection Units (YPG) attend the funeral of a slain Kurdish commander in the northeastern city of Qamishli on December 6, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Ankara has repeatedly criticized Washington for providing military support to the YPG and threatened to attack areas held by the militant group.

European Union’s top foreign policy official, Federica Mogherini, called on Turkey on Saturday to avoid taking any unilateral action in Syria that could destabilize the Arab country.

The Pentagon has also denounced as “unacceptable" any unilateral military action in northern Syria.

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