Turkish jet fighters today launched military offensive on Syria, Kurdish militia observation posts in the Syrian town of Afrin, less than a week after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey threatened to resume military action, saying the attack is to oust the Kurdish fighters from Syria.
Explosions were heard as jets swooped over Afrin, and Turkish-backed rebels from the Free Syrian Army began entering the town, according to Anadolu Agency, Turkey’s state-run media outlet.
Afrin is under the control of the People’s Protection Units –the largely Kurdish militia known as the YPG and regarded by Turkey as a terror group.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim confirmed the air operation to eliminate the group and called main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu to inform him about it.
President Erdogan said the military offensive is in its early phase, noting that forces will next move on the Syrian town of Manbij farther east on the Turkish border.
“We know that without security in Syria, there cannot be security in Turkey,” Erdogan told members of his ruling party in Kutahya.
Ankara, which has long fought Kurdish unrest in southeastern Turkey and staunchly opposes the encroachment of a sovereign state on its territory, is determined to prevent the establishment of a Kurdish state across the border in Syria.
It has used military force in the past against Kurds and ISIS in northern Syria.
Launching a new operation targeting Kurdish fighters could open up a new frontier in the Syrian conflict, which has lasted for nearly seven years.
It would also sharpen tensions between Turkey and the United States, which supports and now openly arms Kurdish militias fighting ISIS.
Washington has been concerned about a Turkish military incursion and has called on Ankara to refrain from launching one.
“The focus needs to be on ISIS,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said this week.
Turkish forces, which are calling the undertaking Operation Olive Branch, said they are targeting ISIS as well as Kurdish militia.
“The operation is being carried out within the right of self-defense and with respect to Syrian territorial integrity,” the armed forces said in a statement.