AFRIN, Syria – Turkish-backed Syrian rebels tightened their grip on the city of Afrin on Tuesday in a bid to fully isolate the city, which is controlled by armed Kurdish militias considered terrorist organizations by Ankara despite the fact they are backed by the United States elsewhere in the north of Syria.
Members of the Free Syrian Army spear-heading a Turkish military operation to clear YPG Kurdish fighters out of Afrin enclave in northeast Syria have made steady gains in the countryside outside the city in recent days and had successfully besieged the urban settlement using a pincer movement, the Turkish army claimed in a statement.
Images made available by epa showed FSA fighters near Der Mismis, a village to the south of Afrin, monitoring an ongoing bombing campaign in the distance as part of Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch, an military incursion that has tested Ankara’s relations with its regional and international allies, especially the US, which equips, trains and offers aerial support to the YPG in other areas of Syria.
Kurdish activists have appealed to the international community to denounce Turkey’s military advance, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to clear his country’s borderland of what he views as terror groups indistinguishable from the army’s more habitual enemies: the separatist Kurdish PKK, which is active in eastern Turkey.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British war monitor, said 16,000 people have fled Afrin faced with the Turkish offensive and have sought shelter in the towns of Nubul and Zahraa, which are under the control of the Syrian government.