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Erdogan Says Turkey Has Launched New Ground Operation in Syria

Erdogan Says Turkey Has Launched New Ground Operation in SyriaErdogan Says Turkey Has Launched New Ground Operation in Syria

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that Turkey had “de-facto” launched a new operation on the ground to oust Kurdish militia from a northern Syrian enclave, defying US warnings that the action risked destabilizing the area.

Turkey has in recent days sent dozens of military vehicles to the border area and readied pro-Ankara Syria rebels amid repeated threats from top officials the operation on the town of Afrin was imminent, AFP reported.

The Turkish army has over the last two days shelled camps and refuges used by the People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in response to fire from the militia group, which Turkey deems to be a terror organization.

“The Afrin operation has de-facto been started on the ground,” Erdogan said in a televised speech in the city of Kutahya, without elaborating.

“This will be followed by Manbij,” he added, referring to another Kurdish-controlled Syrian town to the east.

Turkey accuses the YPG of being the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has waged a rebellion in the Turkish southeast for more than three decades and is regarded as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.

But the YPG has been the key ally of Turkey’s fellow NATO member the United States in the fight against the self-styled Islamic State militants, playing a key role in pushing the extremists out of their Syrian strongholds.

  Need for Moscow’s Blessing

Turkey from August 2016 to March 2017 pushed into Syria in its more than half-year Euphrates Shield operation in an area to the east of Afrin against both YPG and IS.

Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad warned on Thursday that the Syrian air force could destroy any Turkish warplanes used in the new offensive.

Analysts say that crucial for any major ground operation will be approval from Moscow which has a military presence in the area and a cordial relationship with the YPG.

With conspicuous timing, Turkey’s army chief General Hulusi Akar and spy chief Hakan Fidan were in Moscow on Thursday for talks with Russian counterparts on Syria.

“A full Turkish air and ground offensive will not take place without Moscow’s blessing,” said Anthony Skinner, Director MENA at global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, adding a full Turkish campaign is “not inevitable”.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported Friday afternoon that Russian military personnel in the Afrin area were withdrawing from their positions but Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later issued a strong denial.

 

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