New Turkish ground forces operation in Syria
Turkey's prime minister says part of the operation is to establish a 30km 'safe zone' in Syrian enclave of Afrin to bar the establishment of a Kurdish corridor along its border. Turkish news agency Anadolu reported that the Turkish forces were backed by armoured vehicles, special forces and infantry regiments.
Turkish special forces attacking in Syrian Kurdistan (Picture source: YouTube)
On Sunday, February 25, Turkey's prime minister Binali Yildirim announced that ground forces had crossed into the Syrian enclave of Afrin as part of an operation against Syrian Kurdish armed group YPG. He said Turkey plans to establish a 30km "safe zone" in Afrin. Turkey says that Saturday’s U.N. Security Council demand for a 30-day truce across Syria does not apply to its “Operation Olive Branch” offensive in Afrin. According to estimates, there are between 8,000 to 10,000 Kurdish fighters in the Afrin area.
Turkey is targeting Syria's Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the YPG, as "terrorist groups" with ties to the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Confirming the Afrin operation, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday he hopes it will be completed "in a very short time". He also warned pro-Kurdish opposition supporters in Turkey not to protest against the military's operation. "Know that if you go out on the streets, authorities are on your necks," he told thousands of supporters in Bursa.
Earlier, Anadolu reported that Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters had advanced towards Afrin in the early hours of Sunday. The YPG confirmed the advance, saying two villages in Afrin's Bilbil district near the Turkish border came under attack.
About 25,000 Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels were joining the Turkish military operation in northern Syria with the goal of recapturing Arab towns and villages held by the YPG. A main goal of the military operation was to recapture Tel Rifaat, a town southeast of Afrin, and a string of Arab villages the YPG captured from rebels in February 2016, driving out tens of thousands of inhabitants. The task of the Free Syrian Army is first to regain sixteen Arab towns and villages occupied by the foreign militias with the help of the Russian air force.
On Saturday, president Erdogan said the operation in Afrin would be followed by a push in the northern town of Manbij, which the US-backed Kurdish forces captured from ISIL in 2016.
The US has previously armed the Syrian Kurdish YPG, viewing it as the most effective ground force in its fight against the ISIL armed group.
Russia, which controls the airspace over Afrin, has withdrawn hundreds of its soldiers deployed near the city before Saturday's operation.