Posts Tagged ‘Kurds’

Turkey stifles anti-Syria operation protests after Erdogan warning

January 21, 2018
© AFP | Turkish anti-riot police detained at least seven people at a rally in Istanbul against Turkey’s operation in Syria
ISTANBUL (AFP) – Turkish anti-riot police on Sunday blocked protests in Istanbul and the Kurdish-majority southeast against Ankara’s military operation inside Syria.At least seven people were detained in Kadikoy on the Asian side of Istanbul, an AFP photographer at the scene reported.

One protester was seen with his hands tied behind by the police officers with others were carried roughly away.

The rally had been called by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), whose members are facing a series of legal challenges for alleged ties with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The police action followed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s warning of a “heavy price” for anyone joining protests against the Turkish army’s operation to oust Syrian Kurdish militia from northern Syria.

It came a day after Turkey launched its operation with Ankara-backed Syrian rebels to root out the Syrian Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) militia from Afrin.

Turkey views the YPG militia as “terrorists” linked to the PKK, which has fought against the Turkish state since 1984 and is designated as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.

In the Kurdish-majority southeastern city of Diyarbakir, police also blocked a protest, surrounding the HDP headquarters and preventing party officials from making a press declaration, an AFP journalist in the city reported.

“People in Afrin will defend themselves. Turks … will not gain anything, it is impossible. I call on the international community … to stop Turkey,” protester Hakki Karagoz said.


Turkey vs. the Kurds: Erdogan Attacks U.S.-backed Forces in Syria, Everything You Need to Know

January 21, 2018

A wider Turkish-Kurdish confrontation threatens to turn into a humanitarian disaster as no less than 800,000 civilians are in the crossfire. Where does Russia, Iran and the U.S. stand?

.A member of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) takes part in a demonstration alongside Syrian-Kurds in the town of Amuda, some 30 kilometres west of Qamishli, a Kurdish-majority city in northeastern Hasakeh province, against a military operation by the Turkish army against the Kurdish YPG forces in Syria's Afrin, on January 21, 2018
A member of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) takes part in a demonstration alongside Syrian-Kurds in the town of Amuda on January 21, 2018 AFP PHOTO / DELIL SOULEIMAN

As Turkey threatens a bloody confrontation with a U.S.-backed Kurdish militia in the main Syrian Kurdish enclave in northwestern Syria, it faces the challenge of maintaining its old alliance with Washington and reinforcing a new rapprochement with Moscow.

The move comes as Syria once again finds itself on the precipice of a new conflict, after months of reduced violence and a surge in post-war stabilization plans. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Syrians in the northwest are fleeing the renewed violence amid a new government offensive in neighboring Idlib, converging on the Turkish border and igniting fears of a new wave of migration.

Turkish warplanes hit 45 targets in northern Syria’s Afrin region on Sunday, the military said, as ground forces pushed into the area in an operation targeting a U.S.-backed Kurdish militia. Iran responded quickly Sunday and called for a quick end to a Turkish incursion into northern Syria’s Afrin province, saying it may help “terrorist” groups, state news agency IRNA reported.

Turkish army video shows airstike at Afrin

A wider Turkish-Kurdish confrontation

Turkey’s defense minister, Nurettin Canikli, said Friday there was no turning back from launching a ground assault on Syria’s Afrin enclave, saying the offensive had “de facto” started with sporadic Turkish military shelling of the area. Over the last week, Turkey has sent troops and tanks to the border and rallied Syrian fighters it has backed for the fight against Afrin’s battle-hardened Kurdish fighters, estimated at between 8,000 and 10,000.

The operation could spill into a wider Turkish-Kurdish confrontation inside Turkey. It also threatens to turn into a humanitarian disaster. The Afrin district houses no less than 800,000 civilians, including displaced people from earlier years of the Syrian war.

Syria areas of control as of January 2018
Syria areas of control as of January 2018Reuters

Turkey has been preparing for a showdown in Afrin for a while. But the recent escalation coincides with U.S. announcements that it is creating a new 30,000-strong Kurdish-led border force to secure the frontiers of Kurdish-controlled areas, including with Turkey and Iraq, to prevent the resurgence of Islamic State militants.

Where is Russia?

Moscow’s green light is necessary for a Turkish operation into Afrin, where Russian military observers have deployed since last year to prevent such a confrontation.

Locals cheer as Turkish tanks head to Syrian border. Haaretz

Activists and Kurdish fighters have denied claims in Turkish media that Russian troops have begun a withdrawal.

Russia, Iran and Turkey are interested in limiting the U.S. presence in Syria, and have protested Washington’s plans to create the border force, viewed as a U.S. attempt to create a buffer zone where Iranian and Syrian government influence ends.

Ankara’s military operations in Syria began in 2016 in large part to curtail the formation of a contiguous territory under Kurdish control along its borders. It successfully severed that territorial continuity when it deployed its troops and proxy Syrian fighters to areas between Kurdish enclaves in eastern and western Syria.

Afrin remained the only Kurdish enclave in northwestern Syria, encircled by Turkey-backed rebels, and Turkey has been preparing an assault for over a year. Turkey claims that Afrin is an operating base for fighters of its own outlawed Kurdish insurgent group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, to infiltrate Turkish territories.

Erdogan on the attack

In dealing with the conflicts in Afrin and Idlib, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has shown political acumen, juggling national security interests and domestic election concerns, while exerting pressure on Washington and Moscow for his long-term strategic objectives. The threats of an offensive against Kurdish fighters help consolidate nationalist support for Erdogan, who faces a crucial election next year.

With an assault on Afrin, Turkey seeks to further undermine the Kurdish dream of federalized rule in northern Syria. Driving the Kurdish militia out of Afrin would also allow Turkey-backed Syrian fighters supporting its offensive to link Idlib to Syria’s largest city, Aleppo.

Turkey deployed troops in November in Idlib to monitor a de-escalation agreement with Russia and Iran, but they were more strategically stationed along the border with Afrin.

The timing reflects Turkey’s increased frustration with U.S. support for Kurdish forces in Syria, who are now in control of nearly 25 percent of the country, in areas that straddle the Turkish and Iraqi border.

“Turkey remains a loyal and trusted friend and ally of the U.S. and the West. But that does not mean we will accept being treated as sacrificial animals just because a couple of American generals want to embark on an adventure in the Middle East,” Ilnur Cevik, an Erdogan presidential adviser, wrote in the Turkish daily Sabah.

Will the U.S. respond?

Despite assurances to Turkey from State Secretary Rex Tillerson, who says the Kurdish-led border force has been misrepresented, there doesn’t seem to be a major shift in U.S. policy in Syria.

“If anything, he exacerbated it. Erdogan will perceive Tillerson’s announcement of longer term U.S. presence in Syria as doubling down on our partnership with (the Kurdish militia), which does not de-escalate the Turks,” said Elizabeth Teoman, a Turkey researcher with the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.

The Trump administration has been urging Turkey not to attack Afrin, asking Turkish officials to avoid unilateral actions, said two U.S. officials, who weren’t authorized to discuss diplomatic conversations and demanded anonymity.

The U.S military doesn’t have any presence in Afrin, one of the officials said, but a Turkish operation there could have an impact on U.S. operations further east in Syria. The U.S. worries that such an operation could prove to be a distraction from defeating the last vestiges of the Islamic State group, the officials said, adding that the new Kurdish-led border force is nothing new and should not come as a surprise to the Turkish government.

Meanwhile, Turkey has maneuvered to curtail a wide Russian-backed Syrian government military operation in Idlib — the largest remaining insurgent-held area in Syria. The offensive has already caused tens of thousands to flee and has threatened to undermine Erdogan’s clout in the region.

Turkey’s threatened ground assault in Afrin comes as the Idlib operation has intensified, with the Syrian government positioning rival troops near Turkey’s forces there, threatening Turkey-backed Syrian insurgents in the province and creating conditions for a humanitarian disaster.

As the offensive has unfolded, Russian bases in Syria have come under unprecedented drone attacks, sparking tension between Moscow and Turkey amid accusations that such drones would have required assistance from a country possessing satellite navigation technology.

A Syrian Kurdish official, Ilham Ahmed, said the Russians were “bargaining” with Turkey over Afrin in exchange for allowing the government to take Idlib. Russia would prefer handing over Idlib to the Syrian government, instead of Turkey-backed opposition fighters. What to do with al-Qaida-linked group remains a dilemma for all parties, and is a sticking point between the U.S. and Turkey.

Last week, the government offensive in Idlib slowed down amid a counteroffensive from the rebel forces and bad weather. But the airstrikes continued and the number of the province’s displaced resident has reached about 215,000 since mid-December.

Syria’s Assad slams Turkey offensive as ‘support for terrorism’

January 21, 2018


© SANA/AFP/File | President Bashar al-Assad condemned Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish militia in the northern Syrian region of Afrin, saying it was part of Ankara’s support for extremist groups

DAMASCUS (AFP) – President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday condemned Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish militia in the northern Syrian region of Afrin, saying it was part of Ankara’s support for extremist groups.Turkey and allied Syrian rebels entered the Afrin region on Sunday, a day after launching their offensive against the Kurdish-controlled area.

“The brutal Turkish aggression on the Syrian town of Afrin cannot be separated from the Turkish regime’s policy from the first day of Syria’s crisis, which was essentially built on supporting terrorism and terrorist organisations, whatever their names,” Assad said in statements carried by state news agency SANA.

Since Syria’s conflict broke out in 2011, the government has repeatedly slammed Ankara for its support of rebels, accusing it of funding jihadist factions.

As Turkish threats of a potential attack escalated last week, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad warned that Syria could shoot down Turkish warplanes used in an assault.

But the Damascus regime has also previously taken a hard line against the Kurdish authorities, which have implemented semi-autonomous institutions across parts of northern Syria, including Afrin.

On Saturday, a foreign ministry official denied claims by Turkish authorities that it had been informed of the Afrin offensive and called the attack “the latest move in Turkey’s attacks on Syria’s sovereignty”.

Iran to support efforts by Iraq, Kurds to resolve dispute

January 21, 2018


© IRANIAN PRESIDENCY/AFP | A handout picture provided by the office of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani show him (R) meeting Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government in Tehran on January 21, 2018

TEHRAN (AFP) – Iranian officials on Sunday voiced support for efforts to end a dispute in neighbouring Iraq sparked by a Kurdish referendum on independence last year and underscored the need for Iraqi unity.President Hassan Rouhani and the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, made the comments during talks in Tehran with the prime minister of Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region.

Rouhani told Nechirvan Barzani that Tehran backs “a united Iraq” in which “the legal and legitimate rights” of the Kurdish people are recognised in line with the constitution, the presidency said.

Shamkhani said Tehran “will do everything in its power to support efforts to ease the differences” between Baghdad and the Kurdish regional capital Arbil, official IRNA news agency reported.

Iraq’s Kurds voted overwhelmingly in September to establish their own country but the non-binding vote was deemed illegal by the federal government in Baghdad which took retaliatory measures.

The referendum was also condemned in neighbouring Iran and Turkey.

On Saturday, Barzani met Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad for the first time since the failed push by the Kurds to secede.

A statement from Abadi’s office said they discussed the “political and security situation and ways of settling disputes”.

After September’s vote, Baghdad imposed an air blockade on international flights to the Kurdish autonomous region’s two main airports and retook disputed areas, including oil fields from which the Kurds derived the bulk of their revenue.

Shamkhani said Tehran hoped to “contribute to the success” of the dialogue that has opened between Baghdad and Arbil.


Turkish Forces Push Into Syria — Erdogan Threatens Against Protests in Turkey — Kurdish Militia Says Attacks Repulsed

January 21, 2018


Sunday, January 21, 2018

Image may contain: 1 person, crowd, stadium and outdoor

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan greets his supporters during a rally in Bursa, Turkey, January 21, 2018. Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

By Dominic Evans

AZAZ, Syria (Reuters) – Turkish ground forces pushed into northern Syria’s Afrin province on Sunday, Ankara said after launching artillery and air strikes on a U.S.-backed Kurdish militia it aims to sweep from its border.

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

It marked the second day of fighting after Turkey opened a new front in the nearly seven-year-old Syrian war. Under what Ankara has called “Operation Olive Branch”, Turkish air strikes on Saturday pounded YPG positions in Afrin.

Turkey is targeting the U.S.-backed fighters at a time when ties with ally Washington appear close to breaking point.

Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has carried out a deadly, three-decade insurgency in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast. The United States is backing the YPG in Syria, seeing it as an effective partner in the fight against Islamic State.

“Our jets took off and started bombing. And now, the ground operation is underway. Now we see how the YPG … are fleeing in Afrin,” President Tayyip Erdogan said. “We will chase them. God willing, we will complete this operation very quickly.”

Erdogan said some of Turkey’s allies had provided the YPG with 2,000 plane shipments and 5,000 truckloads of ammunition, comments that appeared to be aimed at the United States.

The attacks follow weeks of warnings against the YPG in Syria from Erdogan and his ministers. Turkey has been particularly outraged by an announcement that the United States planned to train 30,000 personnel in parts of northeast Syria under the control of the YPG-spearheaded Syrian Democratic Forces.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the Turkish military, NATO’s second-largest, would create a 30-km (19-mile) “safe zone” in the region, according to broadcaster HaberTurk.


Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army rebel factions had captured a Kurdish village with no resistance and were clearing landmines, a Turkish official said.

The YPG said it had repulsed the Turkish forces.

“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. Since the morning, the combatants have exchanged shelling and clashed along several frontlines around Afrin, he said.

Thousands rallied against the attacks in the border town of Amuda in northwest Syria, vowing to stand against “Turkish occupation”, according to a local witness.

The Turkish military said it had hit 153 targets so far, including shelters and hideouts used by Kurdish militants. The YPG has said Turkey’s strikes killed six civilians and three of its fighters and wounded 13 civilians.

The YPG has also accused Turkey of striking civilian districts and a camp for the displaced in Afrin.

Intense Turkish artillery fire and strikes continued to hit some villages, the YPG said. Fierce battles raged to the north and west of Afrin against Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies, said Birusk Hasaka, the YPG spokesman in Afrin.

Western governments have largely urged calm, with the United States saying the focus should be on fighting Islamic State in Syria.

France asked Turkey to act with restraint, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said after speaking by phone with his Turkish counterpart. He said France would call for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, will demand in the United Nations that Turkey halt it’s military operation in Afrin, RIA news quoted Franz Klintsevich, a member of the upper house of the Russian parliament’s security committee, as saying on Saturday.


At a training camp near the border, about 200 fighters from the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army factions drilled on a parade ground. Some were in different khaki-colored uniforms, some in jeans and sneakers.

Lieutenant-colonel Mohammad al Hamadeen, a rebel spokesman, said a ground offensive was due to begin within hours against the YPG.

“The military operation started this morning with the invasion of the northwestern areas of Afrin. And they will start in the eastern area of Afrin,” he told Reuters.

A Reuters reporter on the outskirts of the northern Syrian town of Azaz, under the control of rebels from Free Syrian Army factions, heard several blasts and saw smoke rising from a hill to the west, where a fighter said the YPG were.

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. Still, Azaz was bleak and the toll from the war was plainly seen in some of its crumbling buildings.

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

On Saturday, a Pentagon official said: “We encourage all parties to avoid escalation and to focus on the most important task of defeating ISIS (Islamic State).”

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported that four rockets fired from Syria hit the border town of Kilis overnight, damaging houses. Turkish security forces retaliated, it said.

(Additional reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun in Istanbul; Orhan Coskun, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay in Ankara; Ellen Francis in Beirut; Geert De Clercq in Paris; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Janet Lawrence)


Erdogan warns of ‘heavy price’ for protests against Syria operation

January 21, 2018

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (REUTERS)
ISTANBUL: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Sunday of a “heavy price” for protests against Turkey’s military operation against Syrian Kurdish militia, after the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) called on people to take to the streets.
“Some HDP representatives are calling on my Kurdish citizens to get out into the squares. Until now, not many people have come out,” Erdogan said in the northwestern province of Bursa.
“But let me say this here… Do not even think about it! There will be a heavy price to pay by those who respond to this call,” he added.
“This is a national fight. We will crush whoever opposes us in this national fight and go on.”
He earlier also hit out at the calls, telling the HDP that they were being watched.
“You will not be able to have a free hand. Hey HDP… hey PKK, wherever you come out, know this: our security forces will be breathing down your neck,” Erdogan vowed.
His warnings came a day after Turkey launched an operation with Syrian rebels to oust the Syrian Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) militia from Afrin.
Turkey views the YPG militia as “terrorists” linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighting against the Turkish state since 1984.
Ankara also often accuses the HDP of being a political front for the PKK, claims which the party strongly denies.

Turkey begins assault on Kurdish-held Afrin

January 20, 2018


A Turkish army tank moves toward the Syrian border. (AP)

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Saturday that Turkey’s ground assault on the Kurdish-held city of Afrin in northern Syria has begun.

Erdogan also said an operation in Kurdish-held Manbij, a town to the east, would follow.
Both towns are controlled by the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara views as a terror group that threatens Turkey’s security due to its links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state for more than three decades.
Mete Sohtaoglu, a prominent Middle East commentator, thinks that Turkey has gone ahead with its Afrin operation without the full support of Russia — the main sponsor of the Astana peace talks which also involve Turkey and Iran — and he expects the Syrian regime will take over the region if Turkey succeeds in ousting the Kurdish militias.
“Regime forces are also expected to enter Afrin,” Sohtaoglu told Arab News. “Under the Astana deal between Russia, Turkey and Iran, Turkish military and regime forces agreed to not enter into direct conflict. Afrin will be put under the management of the Syrian regime at the end of the day.”
Since late Thursday, thousands of fighters from the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army, who were expected to assist Turkey in its military offensive, have been bussed to the border, where military vehicles, equipment, and hundreds of troops were already massed.
Late on Friday, Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon allayed fears that the offensive could jeopardize relations between Turkey and the US, which sees the YPG as a key local partner in its fight against Daesh.
“One action does not typically result in chaos or a breakdown. We have regular communication with our ally Turkey. Allies do not always see eye-to-eye, but they are willing to work together,” Pahon told Andalou Agency.
Turkey has also reportedly constructed its fourth observation post in the Idlib de-escalation zone, as part of its commitments under the Astana deal. Turkey is tasked with establishing 10 more observation posts in the area as soon as possible.
Enes Ayasli, a research assistant at Sakarya University in Turkey, thinks that Turkey’s deployment along the western line of Idlib is a long-term strategic move by Russia. He pointed out that it will make Turkey “responsible” for militant group Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham — also known as Al-Qaeda in Syria — and “their possible actions against regime forces and Russian air bases in Hmeimim and Tartus.”
In this way, he said, “Russia will secure its own existence in Latakia. It is clear that the last attack on Russian air bases increased the threat perception toward radical groups in Idlib.”
According to Ayasli, it is important that the Russian-backed regime forces prepare for possible confrontations with radical groups at the junction of Idlib and Aleppo.
“In the last three weeks, Daesh almost quadrupled its area of control,” he told Arab News. “In addition to that, some other radical groups are being targeted by regime forces. So Turkey’s securing western Idlib is a kind of warrant for Russia in its support of regime forces (in that area).”
Russia remains reluctant to comment on Turkey’s Afrin operation, although that region’s airspace is under Moscow’s control, while Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad recently warned that any Turkish planes attacking Afrin would be destroyed.
At a news conference on Friday, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denied claims that Russia had withdrawn its observers in Afrin ahead of a Turkish offensive.
Oytun Orhan, a researcher on Syria at the Ankara-based think tank Orsam, said that although the US does not consider Afrin as part of its operational area, it nevertheless feels a responsibility to protect the YPG.
“The latest contradictory statements coming from Washington are the result of a need to take a politically balanced position on this issue,” Orhan told Arab News. “But the US doesn’t have the tools to prevent a Turkish operation in the region, and it knows that it cannot deter Ankara merely with political statements.”
However, Orhan pointed out, the US is aware that if Turkey conducts an operation in Afrin without Russia’s consent, this may undermine the regional partnership between Ankara and Moscow and create an opportunity for the US to mend ties with Turkey, its longtime ally.
Orhan added that he does not believe the establishment of the fourth observation post in Idlib is part of Turkey’s operational preparations for Afrin.
“The first three posts provided Turkey with strategic superiority, as they were overlooking the Kurdish canton of Afrin,” he said. “According to the initial agreement between Turkey and Russia, both countries can cooperate on the Afrin issue only after Turkey establishes all 14 observation posts. So Turkey may want to accelerate this process to get a green light from Moscow.”

Turkey Says It Has Afrin, In Syria, “Under Assault”

January 20, 2018

The Turkish operation against U.S. backed forces comes as Turkey’s relations with Washington are at breaking point

Plumes of smoke rise on the air from inside Syria, as seen from the outskirts of the border town of Kilis, Turkey, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018.
Plumes of smoke rise on the air from inside Syria, as seen from the outskirts of the border town of Kilis, Turkey, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018. Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

Turkish warplanes struck positions of a U.S.-backed Kurdish militia in Syria’s Afrin province on Saturday, a senior Turkish official said, in a move likely to drive a deeper wedge between Ankara and the United States.

The operation opens a new front in Syria’s war and sees Ankara confronting Kurds allied to the United States at a time when Turkey’s relations with Washington are reaching breaking point.

The bombing raids targeted the Syrian-Kurdish YPG militia, the Turkish official said, adding that a Turkey-backed rebel group in Syria, the Free Syrian Army, was also providing assistance to the Turkish military’s operation in Afrin.

The YPG said a number of people had been wounded in the air strikes.

The attacks follow weeks of warnings against the YPG in Syria from President Tayyip Erdogan and his ministers. Turkey considers the YPG to be an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has carried out a deadly, three-decade insurgency in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast.

The YPG’s growing strength across a swath of northern Syria has alarmed Ankara, which fears the creation of an independent Kurdish state on its southern border.

In a statement, the Turkish military confirmed it had started an operation in Afrin, saying this was to provide safety for Turkey’s border and to “eliminate terrorists… and save friends and brothers, the people of the region, from their cruelty.”

Earlier on Saturday, the military said it hit shelters and hideouts used by the YPG and other Kurdish fighters, saying Kurdish militants had fired on Turkish positions inside Turkey.

But the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces – of which the YPG is a major component – accused Turkey on Saturday of using cross-border shelling as a false pretext to launch an offensive in Syria.

Differences over Syria policy have further complicated Turkey’s already difficult relationship with NATO ally the United States. Washington has backed the YPG, seeing it as an effective partner in the fight against Islamic State.

A U.S. State Department official on Friday said military intervention by Turkey in Syria would undermine regional stability and would not help protect Turkey’s border security.

Instead, the United States has called on Turkey to focus on the fight against Islamic State. Ankara accuses Washington of using one terrorist group to fight another in Syria.

Turkish jets hammer Syrian town of Afrin

January 20, 2018

Updated 12:30 PM ET, Sat January 20, 2018

Image may contain: sky, cloud, mountain, outdoor and nature

(CNN)Turkish jets pounded Kurdish militia targets Saturday in the Syrian town of Afrin in an attempt to oust the fighters, Turkey’s state-run news reported.

The move is likely to sharpen tensions between Turkey and the United States, which supports and openly arms Kurdish militias fighting ISIS. A new operation targeting Kurdish fighters could open up a new frontier in the Syrian conflict, which has gone on for nearly seven years.
Ankara has long fought Kurdish unrest in southeastern Turkey. It’s determined to prevent the establishment of a Kurdish state across the border in Syria and has used military force in the past against Kurds and ISIS in the northern part of the neighboring country.
Afrin is under the control of the People’s Protection Units — the largely Kurdish militia known as the YPG that Turkey regards as a terror group.
In Saturday’s assault, explosions were heard as jets swooped over Afrin, and Turkish-backed rebels from the Free Syrian Army began entering the town, according to Anadolu Agency, Turkey’s state-run outlet.
Residents and activists also reported airstrikes in the region. The Turkish armed forces said that 108 out of 113 targets had been hit and that all of the dead and wounded brought to hospitals are Kurdish militia members.
Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in a tweet that the operation isn’t targeting civilians and “innocent Syrians” — just terrorists.
Earlier Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the military offensive is in its early phase. He said forces will next move on the Syrian town of Manbij farther east on the Turkish border.
“We know that without security in Syria, there cannot be security in Turkey,” Erdogan told members of his ruling party in Kutahya.

Report: Russia to back Syria at UN


Washington has been concerned about a Turkish military incursion and called on Ankara to refrain from launching one. “The focus needs to be on ISIS,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said this week.
Turkish forces said they are targeting ISIS as well as Kurdish militia in Afrin in an undertaking called Operation Olive Branch.
“The operation is being carried out within the right of self-defense and with respect to Syrian territorial integrity,” the armed forces said in a statement.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry is briefing the heads of missions of the United States, Russia and Iran in Turkey on the latest developments in Afrin, Anadolu reported.
Russia will back the Syrian government diplomatically and support a demand at the United Nations for Turkey to stop its military operation, state-run RIA Novosti quoted a senior lawmaker as saying.
“At the United Nations, not only Syria will demand the termination of this operation, Russia will support these demands and will provide Syria with diplomatic assistance,” said the lawmaker, Franz Klintsevich.
The Russian Foreign Ministry called for restraint Saturday. Its Defense Ministry said it had relocated some troops out of the Afrin area “to prevent possible provocations and to exclude the possibility of the threat to the life and health of Russian servicemen.”

Turkish incursion had been expected in Afrin


Turkish-backed fighters from the Free Syrian Army were battling Kurdish militia members recently in Afrin, and a full cross-border Turkish military incursion had been expected.
More than 50 Turkish vehicles, including artillery, tanks, rocket launchers and heavy equipment transporters, had been observed on the Turkish-Syrian border, a US defense official said Friday.
Turkish state-run media suggested that the new operation would involve airstrikes from warplanes and drones, and that Turkish-trained militia from the Free Syrian Army alliance would be first on the ground in any land offensives.

US-trained border force in Manbij


Manbij is in an area where a 30,000-strong US-trained border force from the Syrian Democratic Forces, dominated by YPG fighters, is to be trained. Turkish-backed rebels and US forces have been trading fire there, US defense officials said.
The announcement of a border force infuriated Turkey’s leaders, and Erdogan has accused the United States, its most powerful NATO ally, of “building an army of terror” on his border and threatened to “drown” the US-backed force.
Turkey regards the YPG as the Syrian arm of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, despite the group’s help in battling ISIS.
The PKK is an outlawed Kurdish group responsible for major terror attacks in Turkey as part of its bid for national ethnic autonomy. The European Union and United States have both named the PKK as a terrorist outfit.
“By changing the name of a terrorist organization that is playing games in Syria, they think (they) are being smart. Who do you think you are fooling? The name of this organization is PKK, PYD, YPG,” Erdogan said Saturday.
“No matter what they say, we don’t care anymore because we look at what is happening in the field.”

Turkish army launches fresh strikes on Kurdish militia targets in Syria

January 20, 2018


© Omar Haj Kadour, AFP | A picture taken on October 13, 2017, shows the Syrian city of Afrin (bottom) next to a three-metre high fortification, built by the Turkish government along its border with Syria.


Latest update : 2018-01-20

The Turkish army said it launched new strikes Saturday against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in northern Syria, amid mounting expectations of a cross-border ground operation.

The army said it hit in “legitimate self defence” camps and refuges used by the YPG in response to fire coming from the Afrin region controlled by the militia group, which Turkey deems to be a terror organisation.

Similar strikes had also taken place on Friday, it confirmed.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly threatened over the last days to launch a ground operation, also including pro-Ankara Syrian rebels, to oust the YPG from Afrin and the area.

Turkey accuses the YPG of being the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has waged a rebellion in the Turkish southeast for more than three decades and is regarded as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.

But the YPG has been the key ally of Turkey’s fellow NATO member the United States in the fight against Islamic State jihadists, playing a key role in pushing the extremists out of their Syrian strongholds.

Turkish Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli said Friday that the operation had “de-facto begun” because of the shelling but confirmed that Turkish troops had not yet crossed over into Syria.

Analysts say that crucial for any major ground operation will be approval from Moscow which has a military presence in the area and a cordial relationship with the YPG.

Turkey’s army chief General Hulusi Akar and spy chief Hakan Fidan were in Moscow on Thursday for talks with Russian counterparts on Syria.