The Turkish military and members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have encircled the northwestern Syrian town of Afrin, the Turkish Armed Forces stated on March 13, marking a substantial advance in the campaign against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militants across the border.
“As of March 12 the center of Arfin has been surrounded and areas of critical importance for further operations have been captured,” the military said in a statement on March 13.
A total of 3,393 militants have been “neutralized” in Afrin since the start of “Operation Olive Branch,” the military said.
The Turkish authorities often use the word “neutralized” in their statements to imply the militants in question either surrendered or were killed or captured.
After securing the captured areas, Turkey is firstly helping locals return home and the Turkish Red Crescent and the Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) are conducting aid activities simultaneously, the statement said.
Turkey launched “Operation Olive Branch” on Jan. 20 to clear Afrin of the YPG, which Ankara regards as an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and a terrorist group.
On March 12, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said the armed forces had gained control of more than half of the operation area in the Afrin region.
The Turkish military and the FSA have so far seized a total of 1,102 square kilometers from the YPG, Bozdağ said on March 12 following a cabinet meeting in Ankara, adding that the overall area of the operation covered 1,920 square kilometers.
“Currently, more than half of the area is under our control. The infrastructure and superstructure of every region cleared of terrorists is brought under control, and will be made operational quickly. Every kind of security risk will be eliminated in the region; and the region will be made habitable,” he said.
“All the critical places in the immediate vicinity of Afrin have been brought under our control. Hopefully Afrin’s center will soon be cleared of terrorists and the local community will be saved from the cruelty and oppression of the terrorists,” he added.
Bozdağ also said talks between Ankara and Baghdad were “positive” regarding the holding of a joint operation against the PKK in Iraq.
42 soldiers killed so far
A total of 42 soldiers have been killed and 202 have been injured since the start of “Operation Olive Branch,” he also said.
Shortly after Bozdağ announced this figure, the Turkish General Staff said one more soldier had been killed while another had been injured.
In a separate incident, one Turkish soldier was killed during clashes with militants of the otlawed PKK in the eastern Turkish province of Ağrı. The army said three PKK militants were “neutralized” in the clash.
Two children were also reportedly injured in an attack when an improvised roadside explosive went off, the Ağrı Governor’s Office said in a written statement.
“As a result of rockets fired by terrorists from the Afrin region into Turkey and attacks undertaken, seven of our civilians have been martyred and 125 of our citizens have been injured [since the start of the operation],” Bozdağ stated.