Feb 21 2018

Turkey says Afrin operation continuing as planned

Turkey's military said an incursion into the Syrian enclave of Afrin is continuing as planned.

Troops on the ground in the Kurdish-controlled region are being supported by fighter jets and artillery, the military said in a statement on Wednesday.

The statement came the day after the Syrian government and witnesses said pro-regime fighters had entered Afrin to support the local population in its defence of the region against Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan  said on Tuesday that an attempt by terrorists to enter Afrin in support of the Kurds had been repelled by Turkish artillery.

Soldiers have "neutralised" 65 terrorists in the most recent clashes, the military said. That brings the total since Jan. 20, when the operation began, to 1,780 members of the People's Defence Forces (YPG), the Kurdistan Workers' party (PKK) and Islamic State (ISIS), it said.

Turkey uses the term "neutralised" to refer to persons killed or those who have surrendered.

The arrival of pro-Syrian government forces in Afrin has raised fears of direct clashes between President Bashar Assad's regime and Turkey, which is a member of NATO. The United States warned Turkey against an operation in Syria saying it destablises the country and detracts from the fight against ISIS. The YPG and other groups are being trained and equipped by Washington in the battle against ISIS.

Erdoğan ordered Turkish forces into Afrin last month to attack the YPG, which he says is indistinguishable from the PKK. The PKK, recognised as terrorists by the United States and European Union, has fought a three-decade war for autonomy from Turkey at the cost of 40,000 lives, most of them Kurdish.

The Turkish president said on Tuesday that Turkish troops, backed by Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters, would lay siege to Afrin in the coming days and Turkey would not stop its operations in Syria until all terrorists were dead.

Ilnur Çevik, a senior adviser to Erdoğan, said in an editorial on Wednesday that Turkey would not be deterred by a grand chess game being played out by foreign powers in Syria