Turkey’s Erdogan wants bigger ‘safe zone’ in Syria

ANKARA, Turkey, Sept. 19 (UPI) — Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared Monday a major assault on the Islamic State with a bigger “safe zone” in Syria.

The Turkish military will expand its offensive to 1,931 square miles after pushing into Syria in an effort to move the Islamic State and Kurdish separatists from the border area, Erdogan announced Monday. The border between Syria and Turkey is 580 miles.

Erdogan said his country has already cleared “terrorist groups” from an area of about 560 square miles and wants to push into the Islamic State stronghold of al-Bab in northern Syria.

“We have been planning to build houses and social facilities in a safe zone in northern Syria,” Erdogan said. “It has not happened until now. But I hope we can do so from now on.”

And Erdogan is envisioning an even bigger safe zone of 3,100 square miles.

Turkey is expanding its military role in the conflict as the cease-fire in Syria is in a precarious state.

Erdogan wants the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Russia. And U.S. is backing the Syrian Kurdish rebels, who also are despised by Erdogan.

Last month Turkey launched the so-called “Euphrates Shield” mission to recapture the northern Syrian town of Jarablus.

“Jarablus and al-Rai have been cleansed, now we are moving towards al-Bab. We will go there and stop [the Islamic State] from being a threat to us,” he said.

The offensive started after a suicide bomber said to be linked to Islamic State killed at least 54 people at a wedding in the border city of Gaziantep on Aug. 20.

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