Turkey’s military and its rebel allies have encircled the northern Syrian town of Afrin, the Turkish armed forces said on Tuesday, marking a substantial advance in Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish fighters across its southern border.
Turkey launched its operation, dubbed “Olive Branch”, in northern Syria nearly two months ago to sweep the Syrian Kurdish YPG from the Turkish border. Turkey sees the YPG as a terrorist group and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
The forces encircled Afrin town and also captured “areas of critical importance” in the region as of Monday, the Turkish military said in a statement.
On Monday, a Turkish government spokesman said the armed forces had gained control of more than half the area and vowed to clear the Afrin town of militants.
President Tayyip Erdogan last week said Turkish forces had besieged the Afrin town and were nearing its town center, but a YPG spokesman later denied this, saying the regions claimed to be under Turkish control were still battlegrounds.
Since the start of its offensive, Turkey has also threatened to push its military operations to Manbij, further east, to sweep Syrian Kurdish fighters from the length of its borders.
The United States has armed the Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria during the fight against the Islamic State or Daesh as the locals call it, after they took vast areas of the country during the Syrian civil war. This support among other things has driven a deep wedge between the U.S. and their long-time ally of Turkey.
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