Turkish jets bomb Syria's Kurdish-held Afrin

Turkey has begun a new air and ground operation to oust Kurdish militants from the northern Syrian enclave of Afrin. The Kurdish YPG militia warned it had no choice but to fight back and "defeat this aggression."

Turkish warplanes on Saturday carried out airstrikes against Kurdish positions in the northwestern city of Afrin as Turkish-backed Syrian rebel fighters launched a ground offensive.

Military officials quoted by Turkey's state-run news agency said jets had hit more than 100 targets in the region. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the start of the operation, dubbed "Olive Branch," adding that it would soon be expanded to other areas.

"This will be followed by Manbij," he said, referring to a Syrian town to the east held by US-backed Kurdish militias.

The Turkish army said the land and air assault aimed to hit positions held by the People's Protection Units (YPG) and "Islamic State" (IS) militants. However, IS is not known to have a presence in Afrin. 

Read more: Turkey signals military incursion into Kurdish-held Afrin in Syria

Both Afrin and Manbij are under the control of the YPG, which Ankara classes as a terrorist organization allied with the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), a group that is waging a long-running insurgency in Turkey.

The YPG said the airstrikes had hit Afrin's civilian neighborhoods and left it with no choice but to fight back. "We will defeat this aggression, like we have defeated other such assaults against our villages and cities," it said.  

The Syrian government, meanwhile, condemned the offensive, calling it an "attack on Syria's sovereignty." In comments carried by state news agency SANA, it denied "claims by the Turkish regime that it was informed of this military operation."

Buildup at the border

In recent days, Turkey has sent dozens of military vehicles and hundreds of troops to the border area, with top officials saying that an operation was imminent.

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Read more: Turkey signals military incursion into Kurdish-held Afrin in Syria

However, in his comments on Saturday to members of his ruling AK Party in the western province of Kutahya, Erdogan did not specify whether Turkish troops had crossed the border.

He said only that Turkey was determined "to clear our country up to the Iraqi border from this terror filth that is trying to besiege our country."

Erdogan wants to rid the border area of Kurdish militants

Risky move

Any major offensive against Afrin entails high military risks for Ankara, with the Syrian government saying it will shoot down any Turkish jets carrying out raids inside Syria.

It will also affect political ties not only with the US, but also with Russia, which keeps military observers in Afrin and has lately improved its relations with the YPG

In addition, such a move would aggravate the plight of the at least 800,000 civilians in the city, who are already suffering amid a poor humanitarian situation. Many of them have fled fighting in other parts of Syria.

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.

Russia's foreign ministry voiced concern over the operation and called on "the opposing parties to show restraint."

Moscow also said its troops were withdrawing from the area around Afrin "to prevent potential provocation and exclude the threat to the life and well-being of Russian military."

The US, a key ally of the YPG, warned that any Turkish military action against Afrin risks destabilizing the area. Washington sees the YPG as one of the most effective forces fighting against IS jihadis in Syria. Erdogan on Saturday accused the US of failing to keep an earlier promise to force the Kurdish militia out of Manbij following its recapture from IS.

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DW News | 15.01.2018

Turkey condemns plans for Syrian border force

nm,tj/rc (dpa, AFP)