Turkey sends police special forces to Afrin, signaling urban fight
Turkey has sent hundreds of special operations teams and volunteer village guards into Syria’s Afrin district, where “Operation Olive Branch” against Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militants has been ongoing since Jan. 20.
“God willing, you will perform your duties and return safe and sound,” Police Special Operations Chief Selami Türker said at a ceremony in Ankara on Feb. 22, bidding farewell to 150 special operations police officers being sent to Afrin.
In the southern Turkish province of Hatay, on the border with Syria, Deputy Governor Orhan Mardinli attended the ceremony held to send two teams of 22 special operations police officers into Afrin on Feb. 22.
“There are experienced men among you. You will perform an important task there,” Mardinli said, referring to security operations targeting outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants in residential areas of several southeastern provinces of Turkey.
Hundreds of special operation forces of the police, the army and the gendarmerie were sent in cities including Diyarbakır, Şırnak and Mardin during months-long curfews starting from Aug. 16, 2015.
Similar ceremonies to send special operations police officers to Afrin were held in the southeastern provinces of Bingöl, Batman and Siirt. Some 25 police officers from the central province of Sivas, 23 police officers from the southern province of Antalya and 40 police officers from the western province of İzmir have also been sent to Afrin, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
Gendarmerie special operations teams from the provinces of Adıyaman, İzmir and Kocaeli have also been sent to cities on the border with Syria to join “residential area operations” in Afrin, Turkish media outlets have reported.
Village guards from the Kulp and Ergani districts of Diyarbakır province, who have joined operations against PKK militants during curfews, have volunteered to join the ranks of the Turkish forces in Afrin, Doğan News Agency reported. Some 36 village guards from Kulp and 28 village guards from Ergani were sent in ceremonies on Feb. 20.
“By joining the operation [in Afrin] village guards of Kurdish origin will change the perception that this operation is being carried out against the Kurds,” Ziya Sözen, the head of the confederation of village guards, said on Feb. 12.