Turkish troops and FSA units advance 7,5 km inside border in operation targeting Syria’s Afrin

As Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) has continued to shell positions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKk) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria’s Afrin province on the third day of Operation Olive Branch on Monday, it was reported that the TSK/FSA (Free Syrian Army) joint ground operation reached an average of 7,5 kilometres inside the border on the second day of the operation, a point the operation had expected to reach by the fourth day.

According to a report by pro-government Habertürk daily on Monday, 6,400 Turkish troops are taking part in the operation and together with FSA units they have reached between 7 and 9 kilometres inside Afrin to a 130-kilometre width. Twenty-one People’s Protection Units (YPG)-held checkpoints were destroyed from the air, and forces had entered 69 villages and wiped out the YPG presence in nine of them. The TSK had also destroyed a number of explosive devices and other traps left behind by the YPG, Habertürk reported.

According to a report by state-run Anadolu news agency (AA), Turkish military carried out the shelling from Turkey’s border province of Kilis in support of the FSA, which was conducting a ground operation against terrorists in Afrin. The report said the artillery fire, which intensified from time to time, could be heard from the city center in Kilis as well as in some villages of another border province of Hatay. Meanwhile, military vehicle reinforcements continued to be made for the border units.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group focused on the Syrian conflict, has stated on Monday that a total of 21 civilians, including six children, have been killed in the operation, which has been ongoing since Saturday. But Ankara has denied inflicting civilian casualties, with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu accusing the YPG of sending out “nonsense propaganda and baseless lies.”

TURKISH GOVERNMENT GAVE GUARANTE TO RUSSIA 

Meanwhile, it was claimed that Turkish government has assured Russia that there would be no mission creep after its military operation against the Kurdish-held Syrian enclave of Afrin and that would be its final target. According to a report by Russian daily newspaper Kommersant on Monday by quoting anonymous Russian Defence Ministry sources, a Turkish delegation said Afrin was “the final and unchanging target” and assured the Russians the operation would not expand further into Syria.

However, Turkish government will not take a step back from its operation against YPG in Syria’s Afrin, Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Monday. According to a report by AA on Monday, Turkish Foreign Ministry sources has also rejected the claims that the operation on the Syrian border will be limited to Afrin. The sources said Turkey has never made such a commitment to Russia.

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ has also said on Monday that despite contradicting reports, Turkey had given no guarantee to Russia, or any other country for that matter, that Operation Olive Branch will only be confined to Syria’s Afrin. Speaking to reporters following a cabinet meeting, Bozdağ, also said nobody had the right to impose limits on its operation against the YPG. He added that no Turkish soldiers had been killed or wounded in the operation so far.

Despite no guarantee, Bozdağ underlined that the operation’s main objective was to cleanse every terrorist threat from the region and its only target was the YPG and the ISIL terror group. In the wake of international concern, the minister assured that the operation was continuing successfully as planned. He also pointed out that it was “very important” for the international community to support Turkey’s operation against terrorists in Afrin.

In response to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comments about possible cooperation between the US and Turkey to create a “security zone” in northwestern Syria, Bozdağ asserted that for such cooperation to take place the US must first stop supporting the YPG and recollect the weapons it provided to the group.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said last week, Turkey may expand its operations in northern Syria to Manbij city and east of the Euphrates River after Afrin has been cleared. “Turkey’s precautions against YPG/PKK cannot be limited to only Afrin. There is also Manbij and east of the Euphrates River,” Çavuşoğlu said in Vancouver, Canada.

Also on Monday, Turkey reiterated its call that the PYD/PKK should not attend Syria National Dialogue Congress in Sochi, the same sources said. Sochi is the designated venue of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress set for Jan. 29-30. The congress is expected to be attended by all sectors of Syrian society except for terror groups.

Former President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Masoud Barzani on Monday expressed his deep concerns regarding the military operation on the Kurdish-held city of Afrin in Syria and called for an immediate ceasefire. “The attack and bombardments carried out by the Turkish army and other groups on Afrin, which resulted in civilian casualties in the city, has deeply concerned us,” Barzani said in a statement.

BARZANI SAYS VIOLENCE AND WAR ONLY WORSEN CRISES AND DISPUTES

“We hope the attacks will end as soon as possible, and that great care will be applied to protecting people’s lives and preventing a further escalation of the situation to avoid any further negative consequences,” Barzani continued. “Looking at the history of this region, war and violence only worsen crises and disputes. It is best to peacefully resolve issues in the area.”

The Turkish military operation against the Kurdish-held Syrian enclave of Afrin risks allowing ISIL  to recover, just as the jihadist group was about to be wiped out, US news channel CNN said. “Turkey’s military incursion into northern Syria against Kurdish militia opens yet another front in the seven-year Syrian conflict, and risks giving ISIL breathing room just as it was being suffocated,” it said.

“In effect, one NATO member is trying to take down a group which is trained and armed by another and which has done much of the fighting against ISIL while Syrian President Bashar al-Assad fumes on the sidelines.”

It quoted the Washington-based think-tank Institute for the Study of War as saying that the move “threatened to provoke a widening Turkish-Kurdish war that could unravel the US stabilisation effort in eastern Syria and force the US to reconsider support for the YPG.”

Meanwhile, Turkey’s operation against Afrin is seen by many Turks as a necessary security measure, but it has few plaudits in the country’s Kurdish-majority southeast, reported left-wing newspaper Evrensel. The newspaper sent reporters to the southeastern cities of Gaziantep, Diyarbakır, Şırnak, Malatya, Elazığ and Şanlıurfa to ask people in the streets and coffee shops what they thought of the operation.

Also on Monday, the Ottoman military band, Mehter, has reportedly performed in the border province of Hatay for soldiers taking part in Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch in Syria’s Afrin. Some soldiers filmed the performance with their mobile phones, which included a number of anthems such as “Conquest” and “Malazgirt.” Later, soldiers took pictures with the band at the end of the concert.

Mehter, the oldest military band of its kind in the world, performed in Hatay’s Reyhanli district along the Turkish-Syrian border. Hatay metropolitan municipality organized the performance as a show of support for Turkish troops.

On Saturday, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch to remove PYD/PKK and allegedly ISIL terrorists from Afrin. According to the Turkish General Staff, the operation aims to establish security and stability along Turkish borders and the region as well as to protect the Syrian people from “the oppression and cruelty of terrorists.”

Take a second to support SCF on Patreon!