Turkish forces enter Syria’s Kurds hub, Afrin

Turkish armoured vehicles move towards Hassa district of Hatay, Turkey, as part of the Operation Olive Branch. (AA)

Turkish-led forces began a street-by-street fight to capture the most important Kurdish-held town in northern Syria early Sunday, CNN-Turk television said, a crucial juncture in Turkey’s two-month-old campaign to expel U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters from the border area.

Propelled by powerful allies, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has managed to reassert control over a large part of his country after seven years of war. But the direct intervention of Turkey, which backed anti-Assad groups through much of the conflict, suggests the war is entering a dangerous new phase amid growing tensions among regional power-players including Russia, the U.S., Iran and Israel.
The U.S. military has said Turkey’s offensive was slowing down the fight against Islamic State elsewhere in Syria as some senior leaders of Kurdish forces had turned their attention from that battle toward Afrin. Turkish authorities view the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which the U.S. backs, as an extension of Turkey’s Kurdish PKK militants who have sought autonomy for decades. They want to push them from their border.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed on Thursday that the army would not leave Afrin “before the job is done,” and has signaled he could broaden the offensive into northeastern Syria, ultimately targeting PKK bases in Iraq to quash Kurdish aspirations for self-rule. Turkish commandos have been fighting PKK militants in northern Iraq since last week, state-run TRT television reported Sunday.
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