Russian Federation withdraws troops from Syria's Afrin under Turkish attack

Cheryl Sanders
January 22, 2018

A rebel commander told media around 25,000 Free Syrian Army rebels joined the Turkish military operation in northern Syria with the goal of recapturing Arab towns and villages seized by the YPG Kurdish militia nearly two years ago.

But the campaign risks further increasing tensions with Turkey's North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally the United States - which has supported the YPG in the fight against Islamic State (IS) jihadists - and also needs at least the tacit support of Russian Federation to succeed.

'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.

Turkish ground forces pushed into Syria's Afrin province on Sunday, part of Ankara's operation targeting a USA -backed Kurdish militia at its southern border.

"In the planning and execution of the operation only terrorists and their shelters, positions and weapons are being targeted", the army has said.

Turkey has begun a land operation against the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which it sees as a terrorist group for its links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), with troops crossing the border in cooperation with Syrian rebel groups.

Turkey is also supporting the FSA advance with tanks and cross-border artillery fire. The YPG added that multiple civilians and YPG fighters have already been killed. "Changing their names does not change fact they are terror organizations", President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also said at a public rally in the northwestern province of Bursa on January 21.

Turkey launched a ground operation across the border into northern Syria on Sunday, in a move likely to raise tensions with the United States.

Gov. Mehmet Tekinarslan says four rockets struck the town of Kilis early Sunday, hitting two houses and an office.

The YPG is a key USA ally in the war against the Islamic State group.

Afrin is an enclave of YPG control, cut off from the longer strip of northern Syria that the group controls to the east, extending to the Iraqi border which has a U.S. military presence.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the operation would create a 30-km (19-mile) "safe zone", according to broadcaster HaberTurk.

The incursion is likely to further stoke tensions between Turkey and the U.S. after the announcement of a US-backed border force in Manbij, northern Syria, last week.

"The operation is being carried out within the right of self-defense and with respect to Syrian territorial integrity", the Turkish armed forces said in a statement. He said Turkey has always supported "terrorists" in Syria.

There was no immediate comment from the United States on the offensive but ahead of its launch a senior State Department official had raised concerns it risked harming regional security.

"This fighting. must stop", Parly told France 3 television, adding that the Turkish offensive could "deter Kurdish forces who are at the side" of the global coalition battling jihadists in Syria.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France was calling the UN Security Council meeting as it was deeply anxious by the "brutal degradation of the situation" in flashpoints like Afrin.

Other reports by iNewsToday