Turkey launches massive air and ground campaign on US-backed Kurds in Syria

  1. Turkey launched a massive air and ground campaign against US-backed Kurds in Syria on Saturday.
  2. The Kurdish YPG have released statements asking Turkey to “halt its unjustified threats.

Turkey launched a massive air and ground campaign against US-backed Kurds in Syria’s Afrin province on Saturday, which its military has code-named operation “Olive Branch,” according to state-run Anadolu Agency.

Turkish warplanes struck Kurdish observation posts and many other targets, Anadolu reported, while its ground forces launched at least 15 rounds of artillery.

There have also been reports of Turkish tanks rolling into Afrin, and the YPG claimed to have repelled ground invasions near Rajo and villages in the Bilbil district.

The YPG released a statement on Saturday saying that they “harbour no hostile intent towards Turkey,” asking Ankara to “halt its unjustified threats.”

The YPG also denied Ankara’s accusations that its forces have launched artillery across the border, despite having previously released videos contradicting their own claims.

Turkey considers the YPG to be an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has carried out a deadly, three-decade insurgency in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast.

Sporadic cross-border artillery exchanges between the two sides have been ongoing since at least August, but have increased on Thursday in the wake of the US announcing it would maintain and train a 30,000-strong Kurdish force in north and east Syria to stabilise the regions against ISIS.

The YPG’s growing strength across a swath of northern Syria has alarmed Ankara, which fears the creation of an independent Kurdish state on its southern border.

But the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces – of which the YPG is a major component – accused Turkey on Saturday of using cross-border shelling as a false pretext to launch an offensive in Syria.

The YPG also accused Russia, which, according to the BBC, has evacuated its troops from Afrin province, of being as much responsible for the invasion as Turkey, adding that multiple civilians and YPG fighters have already been killed.

Differences over Syria policy have further complicated Turkey’s already difficult relationship with NATO ally the United States. Washington has backed the YPG, seeing it as an effective partner in the fight against Islamic State.

A US State Department official on Friday said military intervention by Turkey in Syria would undermine regional stability and would not help protect Turkey’s border security.

Instead, the United States has called on Turkey to focus on the fight against Islamic State. Ankara accuses Washington of using one terrorist group to fight another in Syria.

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