Turkey airstrikes in Afrin kill dozens of Syrian loyalists

At least 36 pro-government fighters have been killed in Ankara's latest offensive maneuvers in northern Syria. Turkish forces have "surrounded" the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin, according to the country's premier.

Turkish warplanes have struck pro-government forces in the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin in northern Syria, killing 36 loyalist fighters backing the People's Protection Units (YPG) in the area.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led alliance of Syrian militias battling the "Islamic State" militant group, said Turkey's airstrikes targeted positions held by the Syrian military's "popular forces."

Last month, militias supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad entered Afrin to back Kurdish fighters after Turkey launched an offensive with the support of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a loose opposition force comprising several Islamist groups.

Turkey claims the YPG, which forms an integral part of the SDF, is an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a terrorist-designated group that has carried out a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

Conflicts | 21.03.2018

Read more: With Turkey's offensive in Afrin, Erdogan is seeking to kill two birds with one stone

'Surrounded'

On Saturday, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said his country's forces had captured a strategic village in Afrin, effectively increasing its hold on the area.

"Afrin has been surrounded. We have cleared all areas near our borders of terror nests," Yildirim said. The premier added that Ankara would never give up its campaign against "terror."

Since it launched its offensive in January, Turkey has managed to gain control of more than 20 percent of the area, according to the latest assessment from the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on an on-the-ground network of sources.

Read more: Turkey's military offensive against Kurdish-held Afrin — What you need to know

Protests against bloodshed

The Observatory added that more than 140 civilians have been killed by Turkish forces and allies since Ankara launched the offensive.

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Read more: Free Syrian Army turns to Turkey for support in war against Assad

On Saturday, thousands of protesters took to the streets of Berlin to rally against Turkey's offensive in Afrin. Police said that while the event was mostly peaceful, they had to confiscate flags and placards depicting jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

War with no end

Syria has been engulfed in a devastating civil war since 2011 after Syrian President Bashar Assad lost control over large parts of the country to multiple revolutionary groups. The conflict has since drawn in foreign powers and brought misery and death to Syrians.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The dictator

Syria's army, officially known as the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), is loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and is fighting to restore the president's rule over the entire country. The SAA has been fighting alongside a number of pro-Assad militias such as the National Defense Force and has cooperated with military advisors from Russia and Iran, which back Assad.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The northern watchman

Turkey, which is also part of the US-led coalition against IS, has actively supported rebels opposed to Assad. It has a tense relationship with its American allies over US cooperation with Kurdish fighters, who Ankara says are linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) fighting in Turkey. The Turkish military has intervened alongside rebels in northern Aleppo, Afrin and Idlib province.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The eastern guardian

The Kremlin has proven to be a powerful friend to Assad. Russian air power and ground troops officially joined the fight in September 2015 after years of supplying the Syrian army. Moscow has come under fire from the international community for the high number of civilian casualties during its airstrikes. However, Russia's intervention turned the tide in war in favor of Assad.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The western allies

A US-led coalition of more than 50 countries, including Germany, began targeting IS and other terrorist targets with airstrikes in late 2014. The anti-IS coalition has dealt major setbacks to the militant group. The US has more than a thousand special forces in the country backing the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The rebels

The Free Syrian Army grew out of protests against the Assad regime that eventually turned violent. Along with other non-jihadist rebel groups, it seeks the ouster of President Assad and democratic elections. After suffering a number of defeats, many of its members defected to hardline militant groups. It garnered some support from the US and Turkey, but its strength has been greatly diminished.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The resistance

Fighting between Syrian Kurds and Islamists has become its own conflict. The US-led coalition against the "Islamic State" has backed the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias. The Kurdish YPG militia is the main component of the SDF. The Kurds have had a tacit understanding with Assad.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The new jihadists

"Islamic State" (IS) took advantage of regional chaos to capture vast swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014. Seeking to establish its own "caliphate," IS has become infamous for its fundamentalist brand of Islam and its mass atrocities. IS is on the brink of defeat after the US and Russia led separate military campaigns against the militant group.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The old jihadists

IS is not the only terrorist group that has ravaged Syria. A number of jihadist militant groups are fighting in the conflict, warring against various rebel factions and the Assad regime. One of the main jihadist factions is Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, which controls most of Idlib province and has ties with al-Qaeda.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The Persian shadow

Iran has supported Syria, its only Arab ally, for decades. Eager to maintain its ally, Tehran has provided Damascus with strategic assistance, military training and ground troops when the conflict emerged in 2011. The Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah also supports the Assad regime, fighting alongside Iranian forces and paramilitary groups in the country.

ls/cmk (AFP, dpa, AP)

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