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Turkish Air Strikes Target Kurdish Militia In Syria

RFE/RL January 20, 2018

Turkey on January 20 launched a new ground and air operation against an enclave controlled by U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in northwestern Syria, disregarding U.S. warnings that such a move could destabilize the region further.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said in televised comments that air strikes targeting the enclave, Afrin, were aimed at eliminating "elements" of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia in Syria and Islamic State (IS) militants.

His remarks followed a statement earlier in the day by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said a military operation had begun in Afrin and that another operation in nearby Manbij would follow.

Turkey's military said the offensive, code-named Olive Branch, had been launched at 5 p.m. local time and was part of Ankara's right to self-defense.

The Associated Press cited a spokesman for the Syrian Kurdish militia group as confirming that the enclave was being targeted in Turkish aerial bombardments.

The Kurdish militia said later on January 20 that the Turkish air strikes would force its fighters to respond, alleging that the bombardment had hit civilian areas.

The Turkish Army said in a statement hours after the operation began that the air strikes had hit 108 targets held by Kurdish militants in Afrin.

Ankara considers the YPG to be a terrorist organization and is angry that Washington is allied with the Kurdish YPG forces that have been fighting against IS militants in Syria.

The United States had urged Turkey not to launch such an operation, saying the focus should remain on battling IS.

Officials in Ankara said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has spoken with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about the offensive but did not provide details about the conversation, the Associated Press reported.

The Russian Foreign Ministry on January 20 voiced concern about the new offensive and called on "the opposing parties to show restraint."

The Russian Defense Ministry, meanwhile, said in a statement that it was withdrawing its troops from the area in order "to prevent potential provocation and exclude the threat to the life and well-being of Russian military."

Russia has given Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government crucial military backing throughout the war, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions since it began with a state crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in March 2011.

The Syrian government condemned what it called "Turkish aggression on Afrin," Syrian state media reported on January 20.

Turkey's government was infuriated by a January 14 statement from the U.S.-led coalition in Syria that said Washington would help set up a new 30,000-strong border force in Syria that includes the YPG.

Tillerson said previously that he told Cavusoglu, his Turkish counterpart, on January 17 that the "entire situation has been misportrayed" and "misdescribed" by "some people" who "misspoke."

Tillerson said the United States aims to provide training to local elements in Syria -- not create a new border security force.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa, and CNN Turk

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/turkey-air-strikes- kurdish-militia-syria/28986794.html

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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