Turkish forces lay siege to Syria’s key Kurdish town, civilians fleeing
Turkey’s army and allied Syrian rebel forces have surrounded the city of Afrin in northwestern Syria, the main target of Turkey’s operation there.
The military said on Tuesday that forces encircled Afrin and also gained the control “areas of critical importance” in the region as of Monday. The so-called Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (SOHR), a Britain-based monitoring group, confirmed the development in a separate statement.
Turkey - together with the Syrian opposition the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel group - launched in January an air-and-ground operation into Afrin in the northwest of Syria to vanquish the United States-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG/Yekîneyên Parastina Gel) fighters near its border.
Turkey considers the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD/Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat?) in Syria and its armed wing YPG to be “terrorist groups” with ties to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK/Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê).
The PKK has waged a decades-long armed fight against the Turkish state that has killed tens of thousands of people.
Afrin city - the main urban center in the YPG-controlled enclave on the Turkish border - is home to around 350,000 people, the SOHR Observatory said.
The so-called SOHR says over one million civilians face an “unknown fate” as Turkey is laying siege to the region.
The pro-Syrian government forces entered Afrin region late February to repel Turkey’s offensive.
This is the first time that Syrian government forces have been deployed in the region since 2012 when the YPG held the area under its control.
In the absence of Syrian air cover, the YPG is defenseless against Turkish airstrikes, which pave the way for ground forces to advance.
The Syrian government has already condemned the “brutal Turkish aggression” against Afrin, rejecting Ankara’s claim about having informed Damascus of the operation.
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.
Turkey’s repeated threats to push to Manbij have caused complications with NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) ally the U.S., which has its troops deployed in the area and is backing the YPG in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ Daesh), a move that has infuriated Ankara.