Afrin latest: Turkey deploys special forces for ‘new phase of battle’ as Kurdish leader arrested in Prague

Troops now hold a corridor that links territory in Aleppo province under the control of Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army rebels to opposition stronghold of Idlib 

Monday 26 February 2018 18:27
Free Syrian Army fighters near Afrin are being backed by a fresh influx of Turkish troops
Free Syrian Army fighters near Afrin are being backed by a fresh influx of Turkish troops

The Turkish army has deployed fresh troops to fight in its operation against Kurdish militias in northern Syria, ahead of what it said was a “coming battle”.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag told Turkish television that police special forces had been deployed as reinforcements in Afrin, where Turkey is waging the one-month-old Operation Olive Branch to clear Kurdish fighters from the border region “in preparation for the new battle that is approaching”.

Also on Monday, Turkish-backed Syrian rebels and the Turkish army seized territory on the Afrin border, which Mr Bozdag said created a crescent under Turkish control on the Syrian side of the border.

Explosions as Turkey confirms airstrikes on Afrin, Syria

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that Turkish troops now hold a continuous strip of land on the edge of Afrin, opening a corridor that links territory in Aleppo province under the control of the Free Syrian Army, backed by Turkey, with the rebel stronghold of Idlib province.

The new forces will hold the 87 villages Turkey says it has seized from Kurdish YPG fighters, while other units continue the assault on urban areas, Mr Bozdag said.

The air and ground offensive is designed to drive back the Kurdish YPG, which Ankara sees as inextricably linked to the Kurdish PKK, which it views as a terrorist group.

Turkey has opened a new front in Syria’s complex seven-year-old conflict.

Olive Branch is widely believed to have been sparked by Turkish anger at renewed US support for the YPG and Arab-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, which its Nato ally has backed as the most effective ground force against Isis.

The offensive has not been very successful so far: most of the larger towns in the region, including Afrin itself, remain under YPG control.

Turkey said on Monday that Saturday’s UN Security Council demand for a 30-day truce across Syria – designed to stop the fighting in eastern Ghouta – does not apply to its offensive in Afrin.

Over the weekend Turkey dealt Syria’s Kurds a diplomatic blow, after influential former leader Salih Muslim was taken into custody in the Czech Republic following a Turkish request.

Turkey has requested that Salih Muslim, a Syrian national, be extradited to Turkey to face terror charges it made against him in 2016. He was in Prague for a conference.

A hearing is scheduled in the Czech capital on Tuesday.

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