Afrin day 3: U.S. is "concerned" over "Turkish incident" in Syria, EU is "extremely concerned" (updates)

All updates about the fourth day of Turkey’s military operation on Syria’s Afrin are here.

18:53 EU's Mogherini 'extremely worried' by Turkish offensive in Syria

The European Union's diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said Monday she was "extremely worried" by Turkey's offensive against Kurdish militia targets in Syria, saying she would seek urgent talks with Turkish officials.

"I'm extremely worried and will discuss this among other things with our Turkish interlocutors," Mogherini said after a regular meeting of EU foreign ministers where the issue was raised, adding that she was concerned about the impact on civilians and on the UN-backed Syrian peace process. (AFP)

18:33 Syrian op set to shelve Turkey's stuttering EU initiative 

Turkey’s military operation in Syria likely means that efforts to rekindle relations with the European Union will be put on the backburner, according to Marc Pierini, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe and a former EU ambassador to Turkey.

16.21 United States concerned by "Turkish incident" in northern Syria, Tillerson says 

"We are concerned about the Turkish incident in Northern Syria," U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said while on a trip to London, according to a pool report. 

We recognise and fully appreciate Turkey's legitimate right to protect its own citizens from terrorist elements," he said.

Tillerson said he was asking both sides to show restraint and minimise civilian casualties, and said the United States was aiming to "see what we can do to work together to address Turkey's legitimate security concerns." 

15.58 Russia is using Turkey to force Kurds back to Assad, Kurdish leaders say

Syrian Kurdish leaders said Russia had asked them to hand over the northwestern enclave of Afrin to Syrian President Bashar Assad to prevent the Turkish military offensive now underway to seize the territory.

“Russia proposed to the Afrin administration that if Afrin was ruled by the Syrian regime, Turkey wouldn’t attack it,” Aldar Xelil, a leading member of the political movement governing Kurdish-held regions of Syria, told Kurdish channel Sterk TV in an interview. “The Afrin canton administration refused the proposal.”

15.48 Turkey’s Syria offensive may play into Assad’s hands - columnist

Turkey’s military offensive against the Kurdish-held northwestern Syrian enclave of Afrin will not only weaken the Kurds’ position, but may also sow the seeds of suspicion between Kurdish forces and their ally the United States, veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn wrote for liberal British news site The Independent.

“The U.S. has said that it has never had forces in Afrin and what happens there is a Russian responsibility as there have been Russian military observers in the enclave. Nevertheless, the fall of Afrin will be taken as a sign that the U.S. does not want or is not able to defend its Kurdish allies,” Cockburn said.

15.37 Turkish Cypriot newspaper building stoned after anti-Afrin operation article

An angry crowd smashed the windows of a Turkish Cypriot newspaper after it published an article calling Turkey’s offensive against the Kurdish-held Syrian enclave of Afrin “another Turkish occupation” and comparing it to the Turkey’s occupation of northern Cyprus, Greek Cypriot newspaper The Cyprus Mail reported.

The anti-Afrin article prompted a reaction from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who had said: “I call on my brothers in north Cyprus to give the necessary response” and from Turkish Cypriot Foreign Minister Tahsin Ertuğruloğlu, who said the article was a “threat” to relations with Ankara.

15.15 Rockets hit FSA tents inside Turkey, leaving 2 dead

A rocket from Afrin fell on tents where Free Syrian Army (FSA) soldiers were staying in Hatay, Turkey, killing two and wounding 12, news website reported.

Gunfire said to have come from People's Protection Units (YPG) in the YPG-controlled town of Ras al-Ayn towards the Turkish town of Ceylanpınar also wounded a Turkish soldier on duty at the border there, the news site said.

Deputy Prime Minister Recep Akdağ also told broadcaster CNN Türk from the Turkish border city of Kilis that three more rockets had just been fired into Turkey there.


14:22 Turkish delegation told Moscow Afrin was final target - newspaper

Turkey assured Russia 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, Russian daily newspaper Kommersant quoted anonymous Russian Defence Ministry sources as saying.

The Turkish delegation said Afrin was “the final and unchanging target” and assured the Russians the operation would not expand further into Syria.

13.47 US "formenting separatist sentiment" in Syria - Russian FM

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the United States had been "discouraging the Kurds from dialogue" in Syria and "formenting separatist sentiment" in Afrin.

America's actions in Syria, he said, showed either a "lack of understanding of the situation or a deliberate provocation."

Lavrov called on all parties in the conflict in Syria to respect the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity.



13:40 Erdoğan taking big gamble on Syria

Simon Tisdall writes for the Guardian that Erdoğan's decision to invade Syria is fraught with risk as none of the big players support it.

But he doesn't seem to care as he pursues political interests and seeks to defeat the PKK, Turkey's long-time enemy, Tisdall says.

13.25 HDP MP investigated over social media post on Afrin operation

A legal investigation has begun into Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) parliamentarian Alican Önlü over an English-language Twitter post criticising the Afrin operation, Marxist news website SoL reported.

Public prosecutors announced that the post and attached photograph were being investigated over the crime of insulting the Turkish people, the state of the Turkish republic, the Turkish parliament and the Turkish government, the website said.

13:13 FSA rebels say op aim is to return displaced families 

Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces who have joined the Turkey-led operation into the majority-Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) controlled province of Afrin told AFP that they aimed to allow civilians they say were pushed out of the province to return to their homes.

"The goal of the offensive is, in the first phase, to oust the separatist parties from the Arab villages in our areas," said Abu Meslem, a field commander in Al-Jabha al-Shamiya.

"This is our duty: to oust the separatist parties and bring back the displaced families who have been living in tents during the winter," he said.

"The operation is to liberate the area from all kinds of terrorism and protect civilians, Arabs and Kurds," said Abdelrahim, who is also Faylaq al-Sham's military chief.

"We're not attacking to reach the town of Afrin. The residential buildings are not our aim – just the military bases and military positions used by the PYD and YPG."



13.05 21 civilians killed in Afrin op - Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group focussed on the Syrian conflict, has said 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 Mevlut Cavusoglu accusing the YPG of sending out "nonsense propaganda and baseless lies".

The YPG also said it had been preventing Turkish troops from advancing in Afrin but this has not been confirmed by Ankara.



12.35 Turkish operation “risks giving ISIS breathing room” - CNN

The Turkish military operation against the Kurdish-held Syrian enclave of Afrin risks allowing Islamic State (ISIS) to recover, just as the jihadist group was about to be wiped out, U.S. 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 ISIS 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 ISIS – 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 U.S. stabilisation effort in eastern Syria and force the U.S. to reconsider support for the YPG."

12.07 PYD serving imperialists - AKP Deputy Parliamentary Group Chairman

The deputy leader of the parliamentary group of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has said that the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria "represent no-one" other than imperial forces.

"The PYD organisation is the bodyguard in front of the place of entertainment of the imperial forces," Naci Bostancı said. "It is nothing else and it represents no-one. That is why Turkey is fighting this terrorist organisation: against imperial policies that want to turn the region against itself and to gain domination over it."

11:36 Turkey arrests 24 on terrorism charges for social media posts on Afrin

Turkish security forces have arrested 24 people on terror charges for sharing social media posts about the Turkish military operation against the Kurdish-held Syrian enclave of Afrin, the Turkish Interior Ministry said.

The ministry also said that 12 members of terrorist organisations had been killed by security forces and that there had been 823 terror operations carried out across the country over the last week.

Seventeen of the 24 social media arrests were made in the majority-Kurdish city of Diyarbakır, the ministry said, over users sharing false information that contained terrorist propaganda or making provocative calls for action over Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch in the Syrian province of Afrin, which began on Saturday.

11:31 Syria offensive unpopular in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeast

Turkey’s operation against the Kurdish-held northwestern Syrian enclave of Afrin is seen by many Turks as a necessary security measure, but it has few plaudits in the country’s Kurdish-majority southeast, left-wing newspaper Evrensel said.

The newspaper sent reporters to the southeastern cities of Antep, Diyarbakır, Şırnak, Malatya, Elazığ and Urfa to ask people in the streets and coffee shops what they thought of the operation.

10:52 US Defence Secretary gives mixed messages on Afrin op

The U.S. Defence Secretary told reporters that the majority-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) had been a key element in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS), while acknowledging Turkey's legitimate security concerns about the force being based on its borders.

"They have proven their effectiveness," Jim Mattis was quoted by Voice of America as saying. "It has cost them thousands of casualties, but you have watched them, with coalition support, shred ISIS' caliphate in Syria, and that's a matter of arithmetic."

However, he said, it was "easy to understand" why Ankara was concerned about the YPG, whose sister-organisation in Turkey is waging a conflict against the country.

"Turkey is a NATO ally. It's the only NATO country with an active insurgency inside its borders. And Turkey has legitimate security concerns," Mattis stressed.

10:36 Syria moving to hit Nusra in Idlib – Russian defence ministry

The Syrian armed forces are moving into eastern Idlib province together with local paramilitary groups in an operation designed to wipe out a large force of jihadists belonging to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS, formerly known as the al-Nusra Front), Russian news website Sputnik quoted the Russian Defence Ministry as saying.

“Syrian government troops and militia units have started to eliminate a grouping of the Jabhat Fatah al Sham terrorist organization, numbering more than 1,500 fighters and surrounded in the eastern part of Idlib province,” the ministry said in a statement. “The militants are armed with tanks, infantry combat vehicles, field artillery systems and mortars."

The Syrian army had taken 24 settlements from militant groups in the area over the last 24 hours, the ministry was quoted as saying.

09:02 Operation Olive Branch proceeding faster than expected

The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK)–Free Syrian Army (FSA) joint ground operation in Afrin reached an average of 7.5 kilometres inside the border on the second day of the operation, a point they had expected to reach by the fourth day, pro-government newspaper Habertürk reported.

6,400 Turkish troops are taking part in the operation, the newspaper said, and they and the FSA have reached between 7 and 9 kilometres inside Afrin to a 130-kilometre width. 21 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 said.

(All times Turkish)


All updates about the second day of Turkey’s military operation on Syria’s Afrin are here.