Syria war: Deadliest day for Turkey as eight soldiers killed in Afrin offensive

03:43 PM | 4 Feb, 2018
Syria war: Deadliest day for Turkey as eight soldiers killed in Afrin offensive
ANKARA - Turkey has suffered its deadliest day yet in northern Syria since launching its offensive against YPG Kurdish fighters there more than two weeks ago.

On Saturday, eight Turkish soldiers were killed, according to a Turkish army statement. Five of the troops died when their tank was attacked in the Afrin region, the AlJazeera reported.

Turkey launched an operation on 20 January called "Olive Branch" aimed at removing Kurdish militiamen from Afrin, to the north-west of the city of Aleppo.

Turkey wants to push the YPG (People's Protection Units), which it says are "terrorists", out of Afrin to create a buffer zone along its southern border.

YPG fighters targeted the Turkish army tank in Sheikh Haruz, northeast of Afrin, killing five soldiers. Three other soldiers were killed in fighting elsewhere in Afrin.

Turkey has now lost 14 soldiers in fierce clashes during the offensive.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim promised to retaliate in a statement on Twitter.

"They will pay for this twice as much. We have given the necessary response instantly, and we continue to do so," Yildirim said.

Immediately after the attack at Sheikh Haruz, an air operation targeting YPG positions and weapon storages in the area was launched, the army said.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that the Turkish-led forces were taking high ground and would now head towards the city of Afrin itself, saying: "There is not much [further] to go."

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Turkey says it has killed some 900 Kurdish fighters, but this cannot be independently verified.

Meanwhile, Syrian rebels shot down a Russian warplane in northwestern Idlib province on Saturday, the Russian defence ministry said.

The pilot of the aircraft, a Sukhoi 25, used his ejection seat after his plane was hit by a man-carried portable air defence missile.

He was later killed when rebels tried to capture him.

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"The pilot managed to report the ejection in the area controlled by the militants of Jabhat al-Nusra, but later he died fighting the terrorists," a statement by the Russian ministry of defence said.

The downing of the aircraft has been claimed by Hay'et Tahrir al-Sham, commonly known as Tahrir al-Sham. The group is spearheaded by the former al-Nusra Front, which used to be al-Qaeda's branch in Syria.

Moscow has retaliated with dozens of attacks in which at least 10 civilians were killed, according to local activists. Russia says it has killed 30 fighters.

There has been heavy fighting in Idlib for weeks. The UN says about 100,000 civilians have been displaced.

Turkey has taken more Syrian refugees than any other nation.