The Turkish Prime Minister, Binali Yildirim, said the country’s air force had begun its aerial offensive on the region near the border between the two nations, which has been controlled by the Syrian YPG (People’s Protection Units) since 2012.
During a speech in the Turkish city of Bilecik, he said: “As of this moment our brave armed forces have started the aerial offensive to eliminate the PYD and PKK and Daesh elements in Afrin”.
At least seven civilians have been injured so far in the assault which began at 5pm local time (3pm UK time).
The Russian defence ministry has said it is removing its military observers from the city of Afrin because of the Turkish attack.
A senior Turkish official said it aimed to liberate the region from the control of the Kurdish militants who they say are using their toehold in northern Syria as a base to launch attacks on Turkey.
The official said freeing the nearby town of Manbij – which the Kurds took back from Isis in 2016 – from militant control will follow the operation to Afrin, adding that the operations are aimed at rebuilding social and economic infrastructure in the region.
Associated Press journalists at the Turkish border saw at least five jets heading toward Afrin. They also witnessed a convoy of buses, believed to be carrying Syrian opposition fighters, travelling along the border across from Afrin. The convoy included trucks mounted with machine guns.
The assault has been dubbed “Operation Olive Branch” by the Turkish armed forces.
The PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), the Turkish Kurdish separatist movement, has been involved in an on and off armed conflict with the Turkish state since 1984 and has staged several terror attacks in the country’s major cities in recent years.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ended his two-year ceasefire with the Kurds after he became concerned about their growing military strength from fighting Isis militants over the border.
He has claimed the PKK, which operates in Turkey, is trying to “trick” him by pretending they are the same as the YPG which only operates in Syria.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces said earlier on Saturday that the accusations of cross-border attacks were “false” and they would have no choice to retaliate if they were attacked.
They said the “sudden and unjustified” attacks on Afrin “threatens to breath new life” into Isis, which the militants are currently fighting.
Additional reporting by AP
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