Turkish troops shell Afrin to oust US-backed Kurdish militia

Mahir Ünal

Russia's foreign ministry says it is concerned by news of the offensive, and is urging restraint.

The PYD/YPG is the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terrorist group, which has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU.

Also on Saturday, Syrian government forces and supporting militias attacked a rebel-held air base deep inside what was once opposition territory in northwest Syria.

"They will move together with the Free Syria Army", he said, referring to a Turkish-backed militant group.

"We. have been quite consistent in our messaging to the highest levels of the Turkish government", a senior State Department official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, said Friday.

Washington is both allied with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation partner Turkey and the Syrian Kurds as a proxy force against the Islamic State. Iran has also expressed displeasure and on Thursday the Syrian government said it would exert all its efforts to end what it called the "illegitimate" US presence in Syria, according to the Syrian news agency SANA.

But these were the first reports from on the ground that the operation had begun in earnest.

The Turkish General Staff confirmed that it launched "Operation Olive Branch" on Saturday at 5.00 p.m. (1400GMT).

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also threatened to strike at the city of Manbij - some 100km away from Afrin in another Kurdish area - as a next target.

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Turkey launched a massive air and ground campaign against US-backed Kurds in Syria on Saturday.

The United States has not sufficiently addressed Turkish concerns over a Washington-led plan to establish a Kurdish-led border security force in Syria, Ankara said on Thursday, according to Agence France-Presse.

On the Turkish side of border, explosions were heard after the jets crossed into Afrin, the Anadolu Agency reported.

The potential Turkish military intervention will be conducted against the People's Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara considers as a threat to its security.

According to Roj, Turkey did injure at least seven civilians.

The Kurdish militia, which is estimated to control as much as 25% of Syrian territory, had the backing of USA forces and has been at the forefront of anti-Isis operations in the region.

Reuters reports that on Friday, Turkey began cross-border shelling the Kurdish-majority Afrin canton in northern Syria.

Days later, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that the United States would maintain a military presence with the Kurds for the foreseeable future.

"We will destroy the terror corridor gradually as we did in Jarabulus and El-bab operations, starting from the west. Afrin operation has de-facto started in the field".

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