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Military Capabilities

Turks call in heavy artillery against Kurds

02 February 2018
Turkish 203 mm M110 self-propelled howitzers deployed close to the Syrian border in Hatay province fire on the Afrin area on 1 February. Source: Eren Bozkurt/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The Turkish military has deployed heavier artillery to provide fire support for its offensive against the Afrin Kurds in Syria as it becomes increasingly clear that it is facing well-prepared defences in difficult terrain.

M110 self-propelled howitzers (SPHs) were seen being transported to the front in Turkey’s Hatay province on 28 January, eight days after the start of Operation ‘Olive Branch’. The 203 mm guns were subsequently seen firing into the Afrin area defended by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) along with 155 mm T-155 Fırtına SPHs.

The stated objective of the operation is to clear Afrin of Kurdish militants, with the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) claiming on 2 February that 802 ‘terrorists’ had been neutralised, an average of 75 day, a far higher rate than the one claimed against Islamic State fighters during Operation ‘Euphrates Shield’ in 2016–17.

Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said at out the outset of the operation that there were “8,000 to 10,000 terrorists in Afrin”.

The Turks and allied Syrian rebels have attacked on several fronts along the Syrian-Turkish border, but appear to be struggling against well-prepared YPG defences.

After a week of heavy fighting, the Turks and their allies took Mount Barsaya (Burseya) on 28 January. The assault force included Leopard 2 tanks and other armoured vehicles.

A photojournalist working for Turkey’s Anadolu Agency documented the deep trenches, concrete bunkers, and tunnels that had been constructed to defend the isolated high ground in the northeast corner of the Afrin area. One tunnel was reported to be 300 m long. At least one more tunnel was found when Turkish forces entered the village of Qastal Jundu.

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