Fierce fighting as Turkish troops enter Syria

A fighter from the pro-Ankara Free Syrian Army in Tal Malid, north of Aleppo, firing towards positions where the Kurdish People's Protection Units are hiding out in the village of Um al-Hosh in Afrin province.
A fighter from the pro-Ankara Free Syrian Army in Tal Malid, north of Aleppo, firing towards positions where the Kurdish People's Protection Units are hiding out in the village of Um al-Hosh in Afrin province.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

AZAZ (Syria) • Turkish ground forces pushed into northern Syria's Afrin province yesterday, the army said, after Turkey launched artillery and air strikes on a US-backed Kurdish militia it aims to sweep from its border.

The state-run Anadolu news agency said the Turkish troops, whose number was not specified, were advancing alongside forces from the pro-Ankara rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and were already 5km inside Syria.

The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia, supported by the United States but seen as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, said it had repulsed the Turkish forces and their allies after fierce clashes.

The Turkish military said it had hit 153 targets so far, including shelters and hideouts used by Kurdish militants.

The YPG said Turkey's strikes killed six civilians and three of its fighters, and wounded 13 civilians. It has accused Turkey of also striking civilian districts and a camp for the displaced in Afrin.

In a sign of the risks to Turkey, four rockets fired by the YPG hit the border town of Kilis early yesterday, damaging one building and lightly wounding a woman.

It marked the second day of fighting after Ankara opened a new front in the nearly seven-year Syrian war under what the Turkish government has called "Operation Olive Branch".

Turkey is targeting the US-backed fighters at a time when ties with Washington appear close to breaking point.

Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has carried out a deadly, three-decade insurgency in Turkey's mainly Kurdish south-east.

The US is backing the YPG in Syria, seeing it as an effective partner in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the operation would create a 30km "safe zone", according to broadcaster Haberturk.

France has called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council over the Turkish incursion, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said yesterday.

"Ghouta, Idlib, Afrin - France asks for an urgent meeting of the Security Council," Mr Le Drian said on his Twitter feed.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday said he hoped Turkey's offensive against the Kurdish militia in northern Syria would be completed soon.

"God willing, this operation will be finished in a very short time," he told supporters in the north-western Turkish province of Bursa.

Mr Erdogan warned supporters of the pro-Kurdish opposition not to protest against the military's operation in northern Syria, saying security forces would intervene if they demonstrated.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2018, with the headline 'Fierce fighting as Turkish troops enter Syria'. Print Edition | Subscribe