ISTANBUL Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday Turkey would strike against U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG militia in Manbij if they advanced into the Syrian city and found them present, according to NTV television.
A spokesman for President Tayyip Erdogan said the YPG should move out of Manbij to the eastern side of the Euphrates river, which Turkey is broadly believed to see as the boundary of a safe zone it aims to create.
Cavusoglu gave no deadline for any withdrawal of the YPG militia, seen by Ankara as a hostile force allied to PKK Kurdish militants fighting an insurgency on Turkish soil. It considers their presence in Manbij a hindrance to its efforts to create a "save zone" on Turkish borders.
"The PYD (YPG) is as dangerous for our security as Daesh," he said, comparing the Kurdish militia to Islamic State fighters.
"We will not allow the YPG's canton dreams (to come true). If we go to Manbij and the PYD is there, we will hit them," NTV cited Cavusoglu as saying.
The PYD is generally regarded as political wing of the YPG, and the two designations are often used interchangeably.
The YPG is the dominant party in a U.S.-backed alliance, the Syrian Democratic Forces, currently controlling Manbij. But it is unclear how large a presence the YPG has in Manbij.
The U.S. military has deployed a small number of forces in and around Manbij as part of a new role to ensure the different parties in the area do not attack each other.
Cavusoglu said the United States appeared confused in its planning for an attack on the Islamic State's Syrian stronghold of Raqqa. Turkish officials have expressed concern at U.S. plans to enlist the support of YPG fighters in the operation rather than Turkish-backed forces.
Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin, in comments suggesting Turkey might still hold out hopes of being involved, said no decision had yet been taken on who carries out the critical Raqqa operation.
"Our plan is very clear, but the negotiation process is going on," Kalin said, referring to a trilateral meeting between U.S., Russian and Turkish military chiefs this week.
NATO member Turkey sent its forces into northern Syria in August in an operation codenamed "Euphrates Shield" fighting Islamic State fighters and occasionally clashing with the YPG.
Turkey had originally planned, by agreement with Washington, to send its troops into Manbij as part of its drive to a safe zone reaching eastwards up to the Euphrates river.
(Writing by Ralph Boulton; Editing by Alison Williams)