ISTANBUL – Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Saturday that his country’s armed forces had taken control of more than 300 square kilometers of Syrian territory inside the Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin, located in northwestern Syria.
Speaking at a public rally, Erdogan touted the progress being made in Turkey’s military incursion into Afrin, dubbed “Operation Olive Branch,” the stated aim of which was to create a 30-kilometer-deep (19-mile) buffer zone inside Syria and expel the United States-supported Kurdish YPG militias that hold the enclave.
“The Turkish army has advanced 300 square kilometers during ‘Operation Olive Branch,’” Erdogan said during a televised speech from the Turkish city of Afyonkarahisar.
Although the Kurdish YPG played a pivotal role in the campaign against the Islamic State terror organization in Syria, the group is viewed by Ankara as indistinguishable from the PKK Kurdish separatists who have fought a low-scale guerrilla war in eastern Turkey for decades.
During his speech on Saturday, Erdogan said the PKK have terrorized his country for 40 years and had joined the YPG in terrorizing Syria, while stressing that these groups do not represent all Kurdish citizens.
Erdogan recounted how some 30 Turkish soldiers had been killed in the fighting in Afrin since the operation began, along with 60 members of Syrian militias allied with Ankara, who call themselves the Free Syrian Army.
Turkish military leadership claimed to have killed 1,595 Kurdish fighters in Afrin.