Turkey takes control of 16 villages in Afrin push

Turkey’s military, backed by militants of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), took control of 16 more villages in northwestern Syria and a strategic high point as it closed in on the city of Afrin, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

The villages captured included several close to Afrin city centre, including Kawkabah, Jagmaq Saghir, Alameda, Khalidiah and Jalbul and Kafr Batna, Anadolu said citing its reporters on the ground.

A strategic airport called Bablite, located between Jinderes and Afrin, was also liberated, it said.

The Turkish military, which launched an incursion into Syria on Jan. 20, is pushing toward Afrin city, home to hundreds of thousands of residents and refugees, as it seeks to defeat the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish group it says are indistinguishable from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkey and the PKK have fought a three-decade war in southeast Turkey at the cost of about 40,000 lives, most of them Kurdish.

Anadolu said the military and FSA, made up of armed Islamist groups, have captured five town centres, 151 villages and 33 strategic locations since the hostilities began.

International aid organisations, the United States and European Union have warned of a possible humanitarian disaster in Afrin as civilians come under bombardment and people seek to flee the city.

The YPG has sent hundreds of fighters from neighbouring Manbij, from where the group has been helping the United States defeat Islamic State (ISIS), to defend Afrin.

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