Turkey arrests scores for 'terror propaganda' as it presses Afrin assault
- Author: Ryan Wade Jan 25, 2018,
Jan 25, 2018, 1:46
The military offensive, together with Turkey's allied Free Syrian Army fighters, has opened up a new front in Syria's seven-year war, which could extend wider still and lead to a confrontation between Turkey and its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally the US.
However, Syrian government forces were preventing people from crossing government-held checkpoints to reach the Kurdish-held districts of nearby Aleppo city, it said.
The United Nations says the risk to the area's 324,000 civilians is high.
The flashpoint is a town in northern Syria called Manbij, occupied by the Syrian Kurds and their US military advisers.
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After intense exchanges, Turkey's forces took control of the hill of Barsaya, a key strategic point in the Afrin region.
Ankara views the YPG as a threat because of its links to the decades-old Kurdish insurgency in Turkey.
Syrian Kurds and allied forces have seized large swathes of territory by helping the United States and its allies to drive Islamic State jihadists from the area.
What is happening on the ground?
Three Turkish soldiers have been killed since the offensive began on Saturday. Although the Turkish state's abuses have been recognised by the global community, the PKK is also broadly treated as a terrorist organisation.
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Anadolu Agency says the group is among some 150 people detained in police operations across Turkey and accused of supporting a US -allied Syrian Kurdish militia that Turkey considers to be a terrorist group. But they say privately that they aren't clear how the Turks intend the Afrin operation to play out longer term. Local estimates say there are 800,000 people living in Afrin. About 126,000 of them had already been displaced before this Turkish offensive and now face further upheaval.
Neither side has released much information about fatalities, making the death toll hard to gauge.
At least 27 civilians, including eight children and four women, have been killed in the fighting in Afrin, mainly in Turkish airstrikes, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group that monitors the civil war. A number of analysts say Russian Federation has been engaged for some time in trying to draw Turkey out of the US orbit of influence.
What is the background to the offensive?
The goal of the operation is to create a 30km-deep buffer zone to protect Turkish towns and positions from alleged incursions and rocket attacks by Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militias, which are a major part of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Turkish troops and the Syrian fighters have been trying to take the summit of Bursaya Hill, overlooking the eastern approach to Afrin town.
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U.S. officials say they are telling their Turkish counterparts publicly and privately that they're aware of Ankara's security concerns about the Syrian Kurds, but they are strongly emphasizing that the battle against ISIS isn't finished and that they need the focus to remain on defeating the terrorist group. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened last week to attack Manbij.