Turkey launched a reported 72 aircraft to begin an air and ground offensive against Kurdish fighters from the northern Syrian city of Afrin. The Turks reportedly hit 100 targets in and around the city according to their state-run news agency.

The Kurdish YPG militia responded that it had no choice but to fight back and “defeat this aggression.”

Turkish warplanes on Saturday carried out airstrikes against Kurdish positions in the northwestern city of Afrin as Turkish-backed Syrian rebel fighters launched a ground offensive.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the start of the operation, dubbed “Olive Branch,” adding that it would soon be expanded to other areas.

“This will be followed by Manbij,” he said, referring to a Syrian town to the east held by US-backed Kurdish militias.

The Turkish army said the land and air assault aimed to hit positions held by the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and “Islamic State” (IS) militants. However, IS is not known to have a presence in Afrin.

Erdogan did not specify whether Turkish troops had crossed the border. He said only that Turkey was determined “to clear our country up to the Iraqi border from this terror filth that is trying to besiege our country.”

This is a delicate operation for Erdogan and his government. The Syrians have said that this was aggression against their territory and will shoot down any Turkish aircraft that crosses the border.

The US has armed, advised, and supported the Kurds in the YPG and these latest moves may further the downward spiral of political goodwill between Washington and Ankara. The Russian military had improved relations with the YPG and had their own forces in Afrin. But they are pulling out to lessen the chance of their soldiers coming under fire.

Stuck in the middle of the chaos is the 800,000 civilians. Many flocked to Afrin to escape the fighting elsewhere and now stuck between two factions with the Islamic State waiting in the wings.

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Photo courtesy Wikipedia