The Turkish Armed Forces bombed a convoy of 30-40 vehicles allegedly belonging to the PKK/KCK/PYD-YPG and alleged ISIL militants during military operations in Syria’s northwestern town of Afrin on late Thursday. However, Kurdish officials have claimed that the convoy was comprised entirely of civilians delivering much-needed food and medicine from the Jazeera area.
In a statement, the Turkish General Staff said the convoy was intercepted about 15 kilometers southeast of Afrin. It was carrying ammunition and weapons to the terrorists, the statement alleged. “Only the convoy belonging to PKK/KCK/PYD-YPG and ISIL terrorist groups was targeted during the operation, and utmost importance was given to not harm any civilians,” it added. A video showing the Turkish army striking the convoy was posted on YouTube in which heavy smoke can be seen after the targets were hit.
Afrin’e Silah ve Mühimmat Taşıyan Terör Örgütü Konvoyunun Vurulması – 22 Şubat 2018 pic.twitter.com/PL8fFP3ZOM
— TSK (@TSKGnkur) February 23, 2018
The pro-Kurdish news sources have claimed on Friday that Turkish military forces targeted a convoy entering Afrin late Thursday, killing a civilian and wounding a dozen others. Kurdish officials have claimed that the convoy, which came under the attack of airstrikes, was comprised entirely of civilians delivering much-needed food and medicine from the Jazeera area, eastward into the embattled region under attack by Turkey for over a month.
YPG spokesperson Birusk Hasaka has claimed the convoy struck from the air included hundreds of people. The shelling set some cars ablaze, wounding at least ten people and killing one passenger; he told Reuters. “The convoy was headed to stand in solidarity with the people of Afrin, carrying food aid and medical supplies.”
Meanwhile, according to a speech given by Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday, the Turkish army and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have captured one thousand villages in Afrin. “Our heroes, thank God, are, step by step, advancing towards Afrin. As of this morning, we have taken control of 415 square kilometers, neutralizing 1,873 terrorists, and one thousand villages have been cleared of these terrorists,” Erdoğan told an Ankara convention of provincial heads of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Kurdistan24 has reported that his remarks were carried live on all major TV channels, news websites, official social media accounts of the presidential office, as well as the state-run Anadolu news agency, which chose not to quote the phrase “one thousand villages.”
Staunchly pro-government Akşam daily, however, posted the statement in a video tweet. No correction was made by Erdoğan himself or his office as of the time of publishing this report.
The government media said Turkish forces and its proxies were able to capture 72 villages and one district center, all lined along the border. The administration of Afrin Canton puts the total number of its villages at 360, concentrated around seven districts. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an independent watchdog following the civil war in Syria, reported that 56 villages were under the control of Turkish-led forces, as of Thursday.
“All we want is to return 3,5 million Syrian refugees to their lands,” Erdoğan continued in line with his earlier statements that Afrin belonged to Arabs and “terrorists” should not be ruling there. Erdoğan added that his army could have “finished Afrin long ago if we did not separate civilians from terrorists.”
While estimates vary regarding civilian casualties, Dr. Ciwan Mihemed, chief physician of Afrin’s main hospital, said Turkish airstrikes and shelling had killed 170 civilians and wounded 460 others.
Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said on Thursday that zero civilians had been killed or wounded by Turkish attacks, going so far as to state they did not even suffer so much “as a nosebleed.”
Erdoğan has also blamed the slow progress of the attempted invasion on weather conditions, saying, “struggle is going on despite snow at times, or storms.” The Turkish president also vowed to take what he has called “the war” to the town of Manbij and east of the River Euphrates, areas where US special forces have served alongside the YPG since the liberation of those areas from the ISIL.