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Erdogan blames 'behaviour' of US forces in Syria for FSA protests

Turkish president says his forces had to usher Amerian troops out of town of al-Rai after protests by rebel allies against their presence
US forces in al-Rai, shortly before they were ejected (Twitter)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said US soldiers should not interfere with Free Syrian Army operations in northern Syria, days after protesting rebels kicked out a team of American commandos from a town in northern Syria.

In comments on Monday, the Turkish president blamed the "behaviour" of US officials for exacerbating tension with the rebels.

A group of US soldiers were forced to leave the town of al-Rai on Friday as FSA rebels chanted "Dogs, agents of America"  "crusaders", "infidels", with one fighter being heard to say there will be a "slaughter". 

Erdogan said: "The Free Syrian Army didn't want US special forces. They don't want US [interference] because unfortunately the behaviour of US officials brought this process to this point."

He confirmed Turkish forces escorted the US soldiers out of al-Rai.

"Our officials, special forces in Syria, ushered members of US special forces - a group of 27 to 30 people - out. At least this problem was solved peacefully."

The US soldiers were forced to withdraw toward the Turkish border after rebels protested against their presence.

The Turkish president also said his forces and their allies may expand their zone of control in Syria further to the south.

Erdogan said his forces were now focused on heading toward the Islamic State-held town of al-Bab, and he added that Turkey's "safety zone" in the region could eventually span an area of 5,000sq/km.

Turkey launched its operation in northern Syria, dubbed "Euphrates Shield", last month to clear IS from its border area with Syria and stop the advance of Syrian Kurdish fighters. So far, Turkey has secured a narrow strip of land along its border.

"As part of the Euphrates Shield operation, an area of 900sq/km has been cleared of terror so far. This area is pushing south," Erdogan said. "We may extend this area to 5,000sq/km as part of a safe zone."

Turkey has long argued for the need for a "safe zone" or a "no-fly" zone along its Syrian border, with the aim of clearing out IS and Kurdish fighters and stemming the waves of refugees that have caused tension in Europe.

Erdogan's comments came as the US-Russia brokered ceasefire looked on the brink of collapse on Monday after a US-led coalition strike killed up to 90 soldiers in the army of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and rebel-held areas of Aleppo were hit by the city's first air raids in nearly a week.

The truce was set to expire at midnight on Monday, although Russian officials had offered an extension earlier in the week.