260,000 Syrians returned to ‘Euphrates Shield’ operation area: Turkish defense minister

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USA support for the Kurdish-led forces has resulted in increased tension between Washington and Ankara.

Those Kurdish militia fighters, known as the People's Protection Units (YPG), are bolstered by Washington as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) countering IS. Ankara and Washington agreed on a roadmap in June amid Turkish demands for the withdrawal of the US -backed Kurdish militia that freed Manbij from the Islamic State group in 2016.

Turkey considers the militia a terror threat and an extension of Kurdish rebels waging an insurgency within Turkey.

The attack came one day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to destroy Kurdish militias east of the Euphrates.

Following an exchange of cross-border fire, Turkish police seized a vehicle carrying more than 545 pounds of explosives in the southeastern province of Mardin, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported. "We have completed preparations and plans regarding this issue", Erdogan said in a speech to lawmakers from his ruling AK Party on Tuesday. He was speaking after a week of airstrikes in the area that have targeted the bases of Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants. The campaign against ISIS "is not over and that fight remains hard", he said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday that at least 100 more Kurdish fighters had arrived in the area less than 24 hours after Turkey shelled their positions in the north. The continuation of Turkish attacks, the group said, would further delay the offensive on the ISIS-held pocket of Hajin.

Turkey's relations with the US have been badly strained over Washington's support for the Kurdish fighters, and while a direct confrontation between their forces is unlikely, Turkey's vow to clear the Kurdish force from areas where USA troops are stationed requires extreme care to avoid unintended American casualties.

A convoy of about 30 troops patrolled northwest of Manbij along the demarcation line dividing Turkish-controlled territory from the area controlled by the USA -backed Manbij Military Council, defense officials told VOA.

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The Americans and the Turks have been conducting independent patrols along the border, and joint patrols are seen as a way of preventing violence.

As part of that agreement, the United States was to convince Kurdish elements of the SDF to withdraw from Manbij and USA and Turkish troops were to conduct joint patrols in the town's vicinity.

Earlier on Wednesday, Turkey killed four Kurdish fighters in shelling of YPG positions in Syria near the border at Kobane.

Earlier this week, Erdogan increased threats to launch a major offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters near the Euphrates River.

The Manbij deal focuses on the withdrawal of the PKK's Syrian offshoot, the YPG terrorist organization, from the district that is located west of the Euphrates river in order to establish stability in the region.

"The terror organization should know that they will be buried in the trenches when the time and place comes", Akar said.

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