Afrin Day 22: 11 Turkish troops killed in deadliest day of Kurdish offensive - Turkish military
11.43pm: 11 Turkish troops killed in deadliest day of Kurdish offensive
(AFP) Eleven Turkish soldiers were killed on Saturday, including two military personnel when a helicopter was downed, in the bloodiest day in Ankara's offensive against a Kurdish militia in northern Syria.
On January 20, Turkey launched a military operation against the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia in the Afrin region, backing Syrian rebels with air strikes and ground troops.
"At this stage, we can say that one out of two helicopters was downed. We have two martyrs," Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said in televised remarks.
The Turkish military later said nine more soldiers were killed in separate incidents but did not give details.
Another 11 soldiers were injured after the offensive's bloodiest day for Turkish military personnel, the army said.
Yildirim said the helicopter was on a mission in the Afrin region as part of Ankara's offensive dubbed Operation "Olive Branch".
Ankara says the YPG is a "terrorist" offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency inside Turkey and is blacklisted by Washington and the European Union.
Mustefa Bali, spokesman for the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces dominated by the YPG, said on Twitter that a helicopter had been hit in the Rajo area of northwest Afrin, near the Turkish border.
But the state-run news agency Anadolu said the incident happened in the southern border province of Hatay, with the private Dogan news agency saying authorities were trying to reach the wreckage in the Kirikhan district.
Earlier, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a helicopter had been shot down without saying who was responsible.
"Of course, these kinds of things will happen. We are in a war. We will have losses, but we will cause the other side to have losses as well," he said in a televised speech, vowing to make the perpetrators pay "a much heavier price".
- 'Threat to Turkey' -
The Turkish military said one of its helicopters crashed at 1300 (1000 GMT) killing two military personnel but did not give a reason for the incident, only saying that an investigation had been launched.
Last Saturday, seven Turkish troops died in the second worst single-day loss of the operation so far, with five killed in a tank attack.
Some 1,141 "terrorists" had been neutralised during the operation, Erdogan said, referring to those killed but also those captured or wounded.
It was not immediately possible to verify this figure.
Yildirim earlier said Turkey had not launched its operation in Afrin to enter into a war or because it had "an eye" on another country's territory.
"Excuse me but no state would ignore a terror organisation growing like a tumour next to it," he said.
"This is a threat to Turkey which Ankara has the natural right to fight under international and domestic law," Yildirim added.
13.18 Israel intensifies raids on Syria after plane shot down
Israel launched a large-scale air raid on "Iranian targets" inside Syria following the apparent shooting down of an Israeli plane by Syrian anti-aircraft fire, The Guardian said.
“This is a serious Iranian attack on Israeli territory. Iran is dragging the region into an adventure in which it doesn’t know how it will end,” Israeli military spokesman Ronen Manelis said. “Whoever is responsible for this incident is the one who will pay the price.”
13.11 Foreign cement company providing material for YPG fortifications – Islamist newspaper
The tunnels and walls used by Kurdish militants in their defence of Afrin are being produced with cement provided by a foreign-owned factory, Islamist newspaper Yeni Şafak said.
The newspaper said that the factory, in the majority-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG)-controlled area of Manbij, was owned by Lafarge, a former French building materials conglomerate.
12.48 Turkey trying to cover up failure in Afrin – PKK spokesman
The Turkish military and government are making up statistics in order to cover up their failure in Afrin, Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) executive committee member Murat Karayılan was quoted by German Kurdish-movement newspaper Yeni Özgür Politika as saying.
“At the head of this false propaganda is (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdoğan himself. For example that day he said ‘We’re marching to Afrin, not far to go’,” he said. “You haven’t progressed anywhere, where are you marching to?”
10.39 1,141 militants killed in Afrin op - Turkish military
The Turkish Armed Forces have announced that so far 1,141 Kurdish and Islamic State (ISIS) militants have been killed in its operation in the Syrian region of Afrin.
The total represents a jump following the re-opening of Syrian airspace by Russia after it was closed to Turkish forces for five days following the downing of a Russian fighter jet.
08.48 SDF says captured British ISIS fighters were heading to Turkey
The majority-Kurdish U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have said that Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee ElSheikh, two of four militants known as “The Beatles" for their English accents, were captured trying to escape to Turkey.
A senior security official in Turkey, however, accused the SDF of anti-Turkish propaganda, saying it was "nonsense" that an Islamic State militant would say they were going to Turkey, and that Ankara was taking every step to eliminate IS militants in Turkey. "It is not that easy to cross the border without permission. There is a wall as well," said the official.
08.40 U.S. Secretary of State expects tough Middle East trip
U.S. officials said that most of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's discussions on his upcoming Middle East tour would be difficult, singling out those in NATO ally Turkey as especially prickly given Turkish military action against U.S.-backed Kurdish rebels in northern Syria and escalating anti-American rhetoric in Ankara.
Tillerson finishes the trip in Turkey with surely tense talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Unnamed U.S. officials said Tillerson will repeat warnings for Turkey to show restraint in military operations in Kurdish areas of Syria.
(All times Turkish)
All updates about the twenty-first day of Turkey’s military operation on Syria’s Afrin are here.