'Operation Olive Branch': Turkey launches air and ground offensive to oust US-backed Kurdish militia
In an operation dubbed “Operation Olive Branch” which followed days of shelling, Turkish fighter jets on Saturday carried out air raids on the border district targeting positions held by the Syrian Kurdish PYD and YPG groups, a development which Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said would pave the way for a ground infiltration.
“From tomorrow [Sunday], depending on developments, our ground units will perform the necessary activities [as part of the Operation Olive Branch],” Yildirim told reporters yesterday.
The heavy bombardment began as units of pro-Ankara rebels known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) started moving into Afrin, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.
On Saturday, Syrian regime troops completely seized the strategic Abu Duhur military airport in Idlib, two years after they lost the airbase to a militant-led rebel coalition.
In latest development on Sunday, a Turkish army convoy were seen entering into Afrin.
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The Turkish military said in a statement on Saturday that its Operation Olive Branch in Afrin aims “to establish security and stability on our borders and region, to eliminate terrorists of PKK/KCK/PYD-YPG and ISIS, and to save our friends and brothers… from the terrorists’ oppression and cruelty.”
It added that the strikes on the Syrian-Kurdish YPG militia hit some 108 targets. Kurdish groups say the Turkish operation killed 6 civilians and 3 fighters.
While Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says Turkey has notified all parties involved - including the Syrian government - about the offensive, Damascus denied this was the case.
Turkey considers Syria's Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the YPG, "terrorist groups" with ties to the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long fight inside Turkey.
The US has previously armed the YPG, viewing it as the most effective ground force in its fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) armed group.
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Erdogan said that all Kurdish armed groups "are all the same" and that changing their names "does not change the fact that they are terror organisations".
According to estimates, there are between 8,000 to 10,000 Kurdish fighters in the Afrin area.
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