Turk­ish troops move into al-Qaeda strong­hold

The Star Malaysia - - World -

BEIRUT: Turk­ish ar­moured ve­hi­cles have rolled into north­west­ern Syria to im­pose a “de-es­ca­la­tion zone” in a prov­ince dom­i­nated by al-Qaeda-linked mil­i­tants.

The Turk­ish mil­i­tary said it be­gan an op­er­a­tion yes­ter­day to set up “ob­ser­va­tion points” in Idlib, with­out pro­vid­ing fur­ther de­tails or say­ing how many troops were in­volved.

Turkey’s Hur­riyet news­pa­per said around 30 ar­moured ve­hi­cles and more than 100 com­man­dos and spe­cial forces are tak­ing part in the op­er­a­tion, with more troop move­ments ex­pected in the com­ing days.

The Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser- va­tory for Hu­man Rights said the de­ploy­ment of nearly 16 ar­moured ve­hi­cles, five tanks and a mil­i­tary force came days af­ter Turkey sent re­con­nais­sance mis­sions to the area.

The de­ploy­ment ap­pears to be fo­cused on es­tab­lish­ing Turk­ish mil­i­tary pres­ence on the bor­der be­tween the north­west­ern Idlib prov­ince and an ad­ja­cent Kur­dish en­clave.

A rebel fighter in the area said the troops de­ployed from a bor­der cross­ing into the Idlib prov­ince to be sta­tioned be­tween the Kur­dish-held Afrin en­clave and an area held by Syr­ian rebels.

Turkey con­sid­ers Syria’s main Kur­dish mili­tia a ter­ror­ist group be­cause of its links to the Kur­dish in­sur­gency in Turkey’s south­east.

A Kur­dish spokesman con­firmed the de­ploy­ment of Turk­ish troops, say­ing they were sta­tioned in three sep­a­rate points along a “front” be­tween Afrin and Idlib.

Both the rebel fighter and the Ob­ser­va­tory said the Le­vant Lib­er­a­tion Com­mit­tee, an in­sur­gent coali­tion al­lied with al-Qaeda, es­corted the Turk­ish troops.

The fighter and the Kur­dish mili­tia mem­ber spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they weren’t au­tho­rised to talk to the press.

It’s not clear if the in­sur­gents are on board with Turkey’s plans.

Brief clashes broke out along the bor­der ahead of the de­ploy­ment, amid re­ports of di­vi­sions within the in­sur­gent coali­tion.

“The sit­u­a­tion is com­plex,” said Mustafa Se­jari, a spokesman for the Al­mu­tas­sim Brigades, a Turk­ish­backed Syr­ian force.

He iden­ti­fied three ma­jor threats to the area: the Kur­dish “sep­a­ratists,” the Syr­ian and Rus­sian air cam­paign against the rebels, and the con­tin­ued dom­i­na­tion by al-Qaeda-linked mil­i­tants. — AP

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