Turkish military enters Syrian territory for ground operation

Pauline Gross
January 22, 2018

Under what the Turkish government has called "Operation Olive Branch", Turkish air strikes on Saturday pounded YPG positions in Afrin.

Turkey, however, believes the group has links to the banned PKK, and has for several months been threatening to clear Kurdish fighters from Afrin and another city, Manbij, which lies 100km away.

Turkey has long protested against the US support for the PYD - the Syrian offshoot of the terrorist PKK - and its military wing the YPG. And now, the ground operation is under way.

In his first comments on the offensive since it began, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed hope the "operation will be finished in a very short time" and vowed "we will not take a step back". "We will chase them".

The Syrian-Kurdish YPG militia, supported by the United States but seen as a terrorist organization by Turkey, said it had repulsed the Turks and their rebel allies after fierce clashes.

The day before, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said that the ground operation in Syria's Afrin may start on Sunday.

But it is targeting the USA -supported YPG at a time Turkey's ties with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally Washington are deeply strained.

Operation "Olive Branch", in the Afrin region, is Turkey's second major incursion into Syria during the seven-year civil war.

"Turkey has used its right under global law", said Bozdag, who is the top government spokesman, refusing to be drawn on how long the operation would take.

The attacks follow weeks of warnings against the YPG in Syria from Erdogan and his ministers.

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USA officials have said that the administration had appealed to Turkey not to go ahead with the offensive.

Reports say Turkish forces have crossed the Syrian border and aim to create a security zone some 30km deep inside Syria.

On Sunday, the state-run Anadolu Agency said the Turkish-backed fighters had penetrated 5 kilometers (3 miles) into Afrin as part of the offensive. Syria's government in Damascus says it will shoot down any Turkish jets on raids in the country.

"All the Turkish military's ground attacks against Afrin have been repelled so far and they have been forced to retreat", Nouri Mahmoudi, a YPG official, said.

Erdogan was speaking to thousands of supporters in the northwestern city of Bursa.

The YPG also accused Russian Federation, which, according to the BBC, has evacuated its troops from Afrin province, of being as much responsible for the invasion as Turkey, adding that multiple civilians and YPG fighters have already been killed. Military sources told daily Hürriyet that FSA units backed by Turkish tanks are advancing on the field and YPG militants are withdrawing to villages and towns without putting up serious resistance.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France was calling the UN Security Council meeting as it was deeply anxious by the "brutal degradation of the situation" in flashpoints like Afrin.

The army said Isis was also being targeted in this operation although it no longer has any major presence in the Afrin area.

There were no signs of conflict in the town itself, where life appeared to continue as normal with traffic on the muddy, potholed roads and uniformed rebel police at the main roundabouts.

At one of the auto fix workshops on the outskirts of the town some men were fixing a gun-loaded vehicle.

Other reports by GizPress

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