Middle East

Turkish troops push further into Afrin to oust US-backed Kurdish militia

A Turkish military convoy arrives at a village on the Turkish-Syrian border in Kilis province (Reuters)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that his forces would crush the US-backed Kurdish YPG militia as troops pushed further into the northern Syrian town of Afrin.

Speaking to a congress of his ruling AK Party in the northwestern city of Bursa, Erdogan also accused some of Turkey's allies of providing 2,000 plane shipments and 5,000 truckloads of weapons to the YPG, a comment that appeared aimed at the United States.

A comment aimed at America who backed the YPG in its fight against the Islamic State group in Syria.

Erdogan's comments came after Turkey's prime minister, Binali Yildirim, confirmed on Sunday that Turkish troops were continuing their offensive inside Syria.

"The operation will be conducted at speed. This operation will also target any support provided to the terrorists in Afrin," said Yildirim.

Yildirim told media representatives in Istanbul on Sunday that there were 8,000 to 10,000 militants in Afrin and that Turkey was resolute in its determination to cleanse all militant presence from the area.

Children are unable to sleep and many Syrians are afraid of what the future will hold for them

– British Aid worker in Atmeh, northern Syria

He also said the operation planned to create a safe zone that would extend 30km into Syria's Afrin region.

The Syrian-Kurdish YPG militia, supported by the United States but seen as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, said it had repulsed the Turks and their rebel allies after fierce clashes.

The fighting marks the second day of Turkey's new front in the nearly seven-year-old Syrian civil war.

Operation Olive Branch

Under what the Turkish government has dubbed as "Operation Olive Branch," Turkish air strikes on Saturday pounded YPG positions in Afrin province.

The military said it had hit 153 targets so far, including shelters and hideouts used by Kurdish militants. The YPG has said Turkey's strikes killed six civilians and three of its fighters and wounded 13 civilians.

The YPG accused Turkey of striking civilian districts and a camp for the displaced in Afrin.

A British aid worker in the Syrian town of Atmeh, southwest of Afrin and close to the Turkish border, told Middle East Eye that she continued to hear the boom of mortar shells fired into the area.

"The shelling hasn't stopped and has kept on going for the last three days," the aid worker told MEE.

"Children are unable to sleep, and many Syrians are afraid of what the future will hold for them."

Kurdish community in Germany protesting against Turkey's ground offensive in Syria (AFP)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Twitter: "In its second day, Olive Branch Operation continues to ensure peace and security for our people, protect Syria's territorial integrity and eliminate all terrorist elements in the region.

"Turkey expects its allies to support its fight against terrorism in all of its forms."

On land, the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army rebels were also helping the operation in Afrin, Turkish officials said.

Continued bombardment

The intense bombardment continued on the region's Balia and Topal villages, the YPG said.

"Our people are holding on to their land and do not accept surrender … we repeat our determination to protect our people in Afrin against the attacks," the YPG said overnight.

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reported that four rockets fired from Syria hit the border town of Kilis overnight, damaging houses. Turkish security forces retaliated, it said.

The operation pits Turkey against Kurdish fighters allied to the United States at a time when ties between Ankara and Washington – NATO allies and members of the coalition against Islamic State – appear close to a breaking point.

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

The United States is backing the YPG in Syria, seeing it as an effective partner in the fight against Islamic State.

Additional reporting from Areeb Ullah in London and Suraj Sharma in Istanbul.

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