President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announces plans to launch an operation to rid the Syrian city of Manbij from the YPG after Afrin.

Smoke rises from the Syria's Afrin region, as it is pictured from near the Turkish town of Hassa, on the Turkish-Syrian border in Hatay province, Turkey on January 20, 2018.
Smoke rises from the Syria's Afrin region, as it is pictured from near the Turkish town of Hassa, on the Turkish-Syrian border in Hatay province, Turkey on January 20, 2018. (Reuters)

The Turkish military on Saturday announced it launched Operation Olive Branch in Syria's northwestern Afrin region on Saturday at 14:00 GMT.   

The Turkish General Staff made the announcement in a statement published on its website, saying the objective of the mission is to “establish security and stability on our borders and region, to eliminate terrorists of PKK/KCK/PYD-YPG and Daesh.”

The statement also said the operation also aims to “save our friends and brothers” from the oppression and cruelty of terrorist groups, adding the operation only targets terrorists and their shelters, weapons and material belonging to them. 

It said the operation will also take sensitivity into account and no civilian or innocent person would be harmed. 

Speaking to TRT World in a live broadcast, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the objective of the operation is to ensure the safety of Turkey’s borders and civilians in the area. 

Targets hit

Security officials who asked not to be named due to restrictions on talking to the media said Turkish fighter jets hit 108 out of 113 targets in the region shortly after the operation started.

The YPG-held Minnigh military airbase was among the targets hit by Turkish jets, as well as YPG observation points in the villages of Jalama, Himdia, Hajlar, Fraria and Tal Sallur.

The officials added that all injured and dead belong to the YPG.   

Civilians were given the opportunity to leave the area but the YPG, in cooperation with Bashar al Assad's regime forces, had closed the road from Afrin to Aleppo in a bid to use civilians as human shields, the officials said.  

Lokman B. Cetinkaya, a researcher at Istanbul FSM University, explains how the operation spans out in the context of international law.

Earlier on Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Ankara had "de-facto" already launched an operation on the ground to oust the YPG from the Syrian border town of Afrin.

"The Afrin operation has de-facto been started on the ground," Erdogan said in a televised speech in the city of Kutahya, without specifying further. "This will be followed by Manbij," he added, referring to another YPG-controlled Syrian town to the east.

Turkey considers the YPG, the armed wing of the PYD, to be a branch of the PKK, which for decades has waged an armed campaign in Turkey that has killed some 40,000 civilians and security officers.

Despite the PKK being recognised as a terrorist organisation not only by Turkey but also by the US and the EU, the US considers the PKK's Syrian offshoot to be an ally in the fight against Daesh. 

YPG militants comprise the bulk of fighters in the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia, which controls a long strip of land in northern Syria along Turkey's southern border.

(TRTWorld)

Erdogan criticised the United States for working with the PKK, saying they are "trying their best to deceive Turkey and the world."

"The PKK, YPG, PYD are all the same; changing names does not change the fact that they are terror organisations," Erdogan said. 

"They are playing games in Syria in their own way, by changing the terror organisation's name. Who are you kidding? This same organisation's name is PKK, PYD, YPG," he added.  

TRT World's Anelise Borges explains a brief history of the YPG in Syria.

Turkey has repeatedly threatened over the last days to launch a ground operation, also including the pro-Ankara Free Syrian Army, to oust the YPG from Afrin and the area.

Turkey's military operation to remove the group from Afrin is just its latest intervention in northern Syria. Turkish troops have already gone into Syria twice in the past two years, but as TRT World's Ben Said reports, the latest operation presents a new set of challenges.

Russian troops pull out

Russia, which itself intervened in the Syrian war in support of Bashar al Assad's regime, said it has pulled out its troops from Afrin and moved them to Tel Rifat for their safety in the wake of Turkey's operation in the area.

According to a statement by the Russian Defense Ministry on Saturday, the Russian military administration in Syria took the necessary steps for the safety of Russian forces in the area.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Saturday said that Turkey informed the Assad regime about the operation in accordance with international law.

Turkey's army chief General Hulusi Akar and spy chief Hakan Fidan were in Moscow on Thursday for talks with Russian counterparts on Syria.

TRT World's Ahmed Al Burai reports on the border security mission from Turkey's Hatay province on the Turkey-Syria border.

YPG displaces Kurds

Nearly 350,000 Kurds from Syria's Afrin have fled to Turkey after oppression from terror groups, Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Saturday.

Addressing the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party's sixth annual provincial congress in northern city of Zonguldak, Yildirim said Turkey will not allow terrorist organisations on its southern borders.   

"The Afrin operation aims to end the cruelty of these PKK/PYD/YPG and Daesh terror organisations in the region," he said.

"More importantly, it aims to ensure the safety of life and property in the southern provinces of our country," he added.     

"Recently new games are being played on our southern border. On the one hand, our supposedly allied countries have made promises to us but then on the other hand they place the PKK, YPG, PYD and Daesh terrorist organisations in the region."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies