Turkey launches ground offensive in northern Syria against US-backed militias

Turkey launches ground offensive in northern Syria against US-backed militiasTurkish ground forces entered Syria’s Afrin province on Sunday morning in a bid to oust US-backed Kurdish militias from the border between the two countries. The escalation comes on the second day of Turkey’s “Operation Olive Branch”, which began on Saturday with a barrage of air strikes on the Kurdish YPG militia in the same province. Turkey said it wanted to create a 30km safe zone around Afrin, deep inside Syria, representing a new phase of Turkish involvement in the country's civil war. Hours after ground forces entered the country, a missile fired in Syria hit the Turkish border town of Reyhanli, killing a Syrian national and wounding 32 people. Turkey made its move just a week after the US announced it was working to create a new Syrian Border Security Force by backing Syrian Democratic Forces, which include militia from the Kurdish YPG. The Turkish government regards the YPG as a terrorist organisation closely tied to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, which has carried out a bloody three-year insurgency in Turkey’s southeast. Graphic: Areas of control in Syria Despite a call for restraint by France, which wants an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, Turkish officials have taken a zero-tolerance line in northern Syria. Foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu declared on Sunday that anyone who opposes Turkey’s operation there is siding with terrorists and will be treated accordingly. The ground invasion draws Turkey risks a confrontation with its NATO ally the US, which closely backs the YPG as its partner against Isil and as a border guard force in the Euphrates area. Ibrahim Kalin, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman, said on Twitter: "In its second day, The Olive Branch Operation continues to ensure peace and security for our people, protect Syria's territorial integrity and eliminate all terrorist elements in the region." In comments that appeared to be aimed at Washington, he added: "Turkey expects its allies to support its fight against terrorism in all of its forms." However, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag later ruled out any clashes with US troops. "It is out of the question to have a direct clash between Turkey and the US in the region," he said. Early on Sunday morning, before the invasion was announced, Turkey claimed four rockets struck the border town of Kilis, wounding one person and causing damage to buildings. Turkey retaliated with a volley of artillery towards YPG positions in northern Syria. Mr Erdogan told a crowd of supporters in northwestern Turkey on Sunday that “there is no stepping back” from the mission to clear Afrin of YPG.   "We are not alone . . . Allah is with us," Mr Erdogan said: "God willing, this operation will come to an end in a short time." The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Turkish shelling  on the village of Jalbara killed eight civilians, including at least one child. Return fire saw one Syrian refugee killed and 32 people wounded on a Turkish town close to the Syrian border. Sunday’s invasion had been hinted at for several weeks by Ankara, and Mr Erdogan has promised to expand the operation to other Kurdish regions. The US has tried to maintain a balance between its NATO alliances and Syrian battlefield politics, but this position is growing less tenable. Just a week ago, a coalition spokesman confirmed that half of the new 30,000-strong Syrian Border Security Force would come from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a group dominated by Syrian Kurds belonging to the very YPG militias in Turkey’s crosshairs.



Yahoo News – Latest News & Headlines