The Syrian-Kurdish YPG militia, supported by the United States but seen as a terrorist organization by Turkey, said it had repulsed the Turkish forces and their allies after fierce clashes.
Intense Turkish artillery fire and air strikes continued to hit some villages, the YPG said, and fierce battles raged to the north and west of Afrin against Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies, said Birusk Hasaka, the YPG spokesman in Afrin.
Turkey opened a new front in the nearly seven-year-old Syrian war on Saturday when, under what Ankara has called “Operation Olive Branch”, Turkish artillery and air strikes pounded YPG positions in Afrin.
Turkey is targeting the U.S.-backed fighters at a time when ties with ally Washington appear close to breaking point.
Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has carried out a deadly, three-decade insurgency in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast. The United States is backing the YPG in Syria, seeing it as an effective partner in the fight against Islamic State.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the Turkish military, NATO’s second-largest, would create a 30-km (19-mile) “safe zone” in the region, according to broadcaster HaberTurk.
“Our jets took off and started bombing. And now the ground operation is underway. Now we see how the YPG … are fleeing in Afrin,” President Tayyip Erdogan said. “We will chase them. God willing, we will complete this operation very quickly.”
Around 25,000 Free Syrian Army rebels are taking part in the operation with the goal of recapturing Arab towns and villages seized by the YPG almost two years ago, a rebel commander said.
Major Yasser Abdul Rahim said the rebels did not seek to enter the mainly Kurdish city of Afrin but encircle it and expel the YPG, which controls it.
A main goal of the military operation was to recapture Tel Rifaat, a town southeast of Afrin, and a string of Arab villages the YPG captured from rebels in February 2016, driving out tens of thousands of inhabitants, Abdul Rahim told Reuters.
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