Turkish gov’t signals ‘new phase’ in Afrin operation
The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) will soon launch a “new phase” in the ongoing “Operation Olive Branch” into the northern Syrian district of Afrin with the deployment of the Gendarmerie Special Operations (JÖH) tasked with carrying out urban warfare against the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
“The deployment of the special forces is a sign of preparations for the new struggle looming ahead. Our struggle is currently ongoing around villages in rural areas away from the city center [of Afrin]. This operation will move towards places where civilians are situated as the battlefield is narrowed,” Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said during a televised interview on Feb. 26.
Turkey launched the operation along with elements of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) on Jan. 20 with the aim of clearing the border of YPG militants. With around 500 square kilometers so far cleared of the YPG, Turkey announced that it will begin to besiege Afrin, which is home to around more than 100,000 civilians. In line with this objective, Turkey had begun the deployment of the JÖH, who are specially trained in urban warfare.
Bozdağ noted that the country’s army has experience fighting against terrorists in urban areas, especially in clashes with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in cities across southeastern Anatolia in late 2015 and early 2016.
“Turkey has vast experience conducting its anti-terror fight in residential areas without harming civilians, just as it had observed during the Euphrates Shield Operation,” he said, referring to a previous incursion into the northern Aleppo governorate against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the YPG.
“That is why we plan to use our experienced special forces from the police, gendarmerie and army in that region. We are exerting our efforts to accomplish our objective by eliminating all terrorists without harming civilians,” Bozdağ added.
Syrian airspace open to TSK
Meanwhile, Ankara has confirmed once again that the Turkish Air Force is still using Syrian airspace to strike YPG positions in Afrin, saying the operation will not be affected by the United Nations’ call for a one-month ceasefire in the war-torn country.
“There is no problem with regard to air operations. Aerial operations are being conducted when necessary. Closure of the airspace is out of the question,” Bozdağ said.
His statement was in response to reports that the Syrian airspace had been closed to Turkish fighters following a U.N. Security Council resolution calling all parties to ceasefire for a month.
Bozdağ stressed that the resolution adopted by the U.N. Security Council does not refer to the situation in Afrin.
“The scope of ‘Operation Olive Branch’ is not limited to the YPG, the PKK, the PYD [Democratic Union Party] and the KCK [Kurdistan Communities Union]. It also includes the fight against DAESH [the Arabic acronym of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant],” he claimed.
“Therefore this resolution will not affect our operation into Afrin,” he added.
Bozdağ argued that no civilians have been hurt as a result of Turkey’s operation and humanitarian assistance has not been suspended in Afrin.
“That is why this U.N. resolution does not apply to ‘Operation Olive Branch,’” he said.
Turkey launched the operation on Jan. 20 in a bid to clear the area from the YPG, the offshoot of the PKK in Syria. According to the country’s armed forces, more than 2,000 YPG terrorists have been “neutralized” since the operation began.