Turkey will lay siege to Afrin in northern Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday a month after Ankara launched an offensive against Kurdish militia in the region. “In the coming days, swiftly, we will lay siege to the centre of the town of Afrin,” Erdogan told parliament.
His remarks came as Turkey’s operation “Olive Branch”, a ground and air offensive against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia which Ankara brands “terrorists”, entered its second month. While some analysts say Turkey and pro-Ankara Syrian rebels have made slow advances, Erdogan defended the operation’s progress, saying it was to avoid putting the lives of both its troops and civilians needlessly “at risk”.
“We did not go there to burn it down,” he said, insisting the operation’s aim was to “create a safe and livable area” for the Syrian refugees inside Turkey, who fled across the border since the conflict began in 2011 and who now number more than three million.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said at least 94 civilians have been killed during Turkey’s offensive. But Ankara has repeatedly insisted there have been no civilian casualties, saying its armed forces are showing utmost care not to harm civilians. Turkey says the YPG is a “terrorist” offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies. But the YPG has been working closely with the United States against the Islamic State extremist group in Syria. Both Washington and Brussels have urged Turkey to show restraint in its operation, with the US warning the offensive could detract from the fight against jihadists in Syria.