Pentagon says not aware of civilian casualties in Afrin under Turkish military operation

Roof of Pentagon, aerial view.

The Pentagon said Monday it has no information about civilian casualties in Syria’s Afrin region. “I am not aware of any incidents regarding what you just specified,” Pentagon spokesman Colonel Rob Manning told reporters who were asking about allegations by PYD/PKK that Turkish military operation there had caused civilian deaths.

Speaking at a daily press conference at the Pentagon Manning said Washington continues to work with Turkish authorities toward finding the best solution in the region. “They (Turkey) are our NATO ally,” Manning said when asked if the Pentagon is concerned about the conflict between the US and Turkey if Ankara enters Manbij following its Afrin operation. “So we go through great measures to make sure that we deconflict and they understand where our forces are,” he added.

“The coalition’s only official relationship in Manbij is with the Manbij Military Council, which was created to defend Manbij from ISIL. But as far as for our ally Turkey, we are in close and continued communication with them.”

However, according to Kurdish and independent sources, the number of civilian casualties continues to increase in Afrin as Turkey’s military operation, supported by the FSA, enters its second week. Ekram Salih, a Kurdistan24 Correspondent in Afrin, reported on Monday that civilians were the majority of victims in Turkish airstrikes carried out in the region, with dozens of them killed and injured since the air campaign began.

“So far, 37 civilians have been killed, 12 of whom were children. The rest were mostly women,” Salih reported, referring to date provided by Afrin’s main hospital. Some of those injured shared their stories with Kurdistan24 while in hospital after being struck by Turkish airstrikes near the city of Afrin.

British journalist Robert Fisk has also reported from a hospital in the besieged Syrian enclave of Afrin that many of the victims of Turkish air strikes are ordinary civilians, including children and refugees. “You should see the dead when they come in, and the state of the wounded with the blood on them,” he quoted Jawan Palot, director of the Afrin Hospital, as saying.

He says that the hospital records show that 34 civilians, 10 of them children, were killed in Turkish air attacks as opposed to only 11 YPG militants. “Was this not a replay of every Israeli air assault on ‘terrorists’ in southern Lebanon, of every NATO air strike on ‘Serb forces’ in ex-Yugoslavia, of every US attack on Iraqi ‘forces’ in 1991 and 2003 and on Afghanistan and on Mosul last year?” Fisk asked.

“All were ‘surgical’ operations, carried out with absolute precision to avoid ‘collateral damage’, of course, and all left a litter of tens or hundreds or thousands of dead and wounded. Our air assaults, Israeli, NATO, American, Turkish, feed off each other in lies and victims,” he said.

Pro-Kurdish Fırat news agency (ANF) has also reported that the Turkish army has massacred civilians in Gubele village of Afrin’s Sherawa district through airstrikes. According to reports, 8 civilians died and 7 others got wounded as a result of the bombardment. It was reported that all the victims were from Kino family. According to reports 10 other civilians lost their lives in the attack and their bodies have not been reached yet as search efforts continue.

Meanwhile, At least 649 PYD/PKK allegedly ISIL militants have been “neutralized” since the beginning of the military operation in Syria’s Afrin province, according to a statement by Turkish General Staff on Tuesday. Turkish authorities often use the word “neutralized” in their statements to imply the terrorists in question either surrendered or were killed or captured. The military has also said Turkish Armed Forces had destroyed three “terrorist targets” and neutralized “33 terrorists” in airstrikes that were carried out overnight.

Three rockets fired by PYD/PKK from Syria hit Turkey’s border provinces of Kilis and Hatay on Tuesday amid the ongoing military operation. One rocket landed in an olive grove in the Sih Mehmet neighborhood of Kilis. No casualties were reported in the incident.

Another two rockets landed in an empty area in Bölünmez neighborhood of Hatay’s Reyhanlı district.  Again, no casualties were reported in the incident. Turkish forces immediately responded to the attack with Fırtına howitzers.

On Tuesday, Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has claimed that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is not a terrorist group, but a national organization that is defending its homeland. Addressing deputies from the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party, Erdoğan slammed the main opposition, Republican People’s Party’s (CHP), for calling the FSA “a terrorist organization.”

“The FSA is not a terrorist group, but a national organization that has people from different ethnicities who have the spirit to defend their homeland,” Erdoğan claimed. He said Turkish soldiers and the FSA were jointly fighting against the PYD/PKK. “A total of 16 fighters of FSA have been martyred and 100 others wounded during Operation Olive Branch,” he added. Erdoğan also thanked the Syrians living in Turkey who applied to the army for participation in the Afrin operation.

Turkey launched a military operation on Afrin on January 20, 2018 against the YPG. The operation is ongoing, with multiple active frontlines and casualties reported on both sides. Recently, UN agencies suspended their activities in the area and “strongly denounced the rising number of child casualties.” Turkey has claimed it is only targeting YPG positions in Afrin in a bid to drive the Kurdish fighters, which Ankara views as terrorists, out of northwestern Syria.

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