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Military Capabilities

Turkish offensive focuses on outskirts of Afrin area

26 January 2018
Turkish-backed Syrian rebels are seen in the Azaz area on the eastern side of the Afrin enclave on 26 January. Source: Emin Sansar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and allied Syrian rebels have concentrated their efforts against Syrian Kurdish fighters in the mountains in the north of the Afrin region in the opening stage of Operation ‘Olive Branch’ that was launched on 20 January.

The TSK has stated that the aim of the Operation ‘Olive Branch’ is to clear the Kurdish-populated Afrin region of “terrorists” to “ensure security and stability on our borders”. The Afrin region is defended by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish group that has been the main US partner against the Islamic State in Syria, but is isolated from other Kurdish-controlled areas.

The operation began with artillery and airstrikes, followed by cross-border incursions on multiple fronts by Turkish and Syrian fighters operating under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

There were conflicting claims about the progress being made, with the Turks saying 343 ‘terrorists’ had been killed or captured by 26 January. On the same day, Turkey’s health minister said 14 Turkish soldiers and FSA fighters had been killed and another 130 wounded.

The YPG, meanwhile, said it had repelled several assaults and launched successful counter-attacks to retake positions that had earlier been lost.

Reports from both sides indicated that most of the fighting was taking place on the edge of the mountains that form the border between Syria and Turkey, although Turkish newspapers reported on 25 January that FSA forces had opened a new front by advancing across the flatter terrain east of Afrin city towards Tall Rifat.

In a possible sign of desperation, the Afrin government released a statement on 26 January calling on President Bashar al-Assad’s government to “exercise its sovereign duty towards Afrin and protect its borders with Turkey from the occupying Turkish forces”.

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