Turkey has begun a land operation against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which it sees as a terrorist group for its links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), with troops crossing the border in cooperation with Syrian rebel groups.
“Our units have entered Afrin from two branches at 11:05 a.m. with the Free Syrian Army [FSA]. This means the land operation has begun,” Yıldırım told the editors of news outlets in a meeting in Istanbul.
The “Olive Branch Operation,” which came hours after a major air strike on the YPG on Jan. 20, will consist of four phases to create a safe zone with a depth of 30 kilometers, he added.
Turkey is also supporting the FSA advance with tanks and cross-border artillery fire.
The operation, which came hours after a major air strike on the YPG on Jan. 20, will consist of four phases to create a safe zone with a 30-kilometer depth, he said.
The first phase will be aimed at forming a secure zone on the Turkish borders between Azaz and Afrin, Yıldırım said, adding that following the first phase the “cleaning” would require an even more thorough work and “there was no need to rush.”
The Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing YPG are not the only groups in the operation area, Yıldırım claimed, pointing to the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) militants who were allowed to leave Raqqa under U.S. watch, referring to a BBC report.
“There are around 8,000 to 10,000 terrorists in Afrin,” Yıldırım said.
“The PKK, the YPG, the PYD are all the same. Changing their names does not change fact they are terror organizations,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also said at a public rally in the northwestern province of Bursa on Jan. 21.
Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar, who commanded the air operation from the General Staff headquarters in Ankara, went to the southern border province of Hatay on Jan. 21 to inspect units taking part in the Afrin operation.
Eight F-16 fighter jets took off from the Diyarbakır 8th Main Jet Base within 20 minutes at around 12:42 p.m. local time, Doğan News Agency reported. Fighter jets also took off from Konya’s 3rd Main Jet Base. Military sources told daily Hürriyet that FSA units backed by Turkish tanks are advancing on the field and YPG militants are withdrawing to villages and towns without putting up serious resistance.
Three missile attacks hit Reyhanlı on the Syria border in Turkey’s southeast on Jan. 21, Doğan News Agency reported.
“In the recent period our borders have been exposed to harassment more than 700 times. Last night six rockets were fired into Kilis. No one has lost their lives, the location of the rockets was determined and they were destroyed,” PM Yıldırım said before the latest attack.
By the evening of Jan. 20, the military said it had struck almost all of its targets in the area, adding that the 72 fighter jets that took part in the operation had safely returned to their bases.
“Out of the 113 PYD targets, 108 have been destroyed as of 18:30 [15:30 GMT]. All the killed and wounded people, who have been sent to hospitals, are members of terrorist groups,” read the statement from the Turkish General Staff.
The next day, on Jan. 21, the Turkish General Staff said 153 targets were hit in an operation carried out “with respect for Syria’s territorial integrity” and stemming from Turkey’s rights under international law.
The Air Forces also hit the Menagh Military Airbase in northwestern Syria, which the U.S. used for supplying weapons to the YPG.
The Turkish Red Crescent has built up a tent camp in Azez in the east of Afrin as a precautionary measure in advance of a possible human flow.
The Turkish military stated that the YPG is “using civilians in Afrin as a human shield,” while the National Intelligence Agency (MİT) has also reportedly confirmed that the YPG is “trying to depict the militants hit by military operations as civilians.”
“Thousands of pro-Turkey civilians have escaped the PKK/YPG-controlled areas in an attempt to reach Aleppo. Our assessment is that the PKK/YPG would like to use civilians as a human shield and blame potential civilian casualties on Turkey,” one official told the Hürriyet Daily News.