Turkey has lost 17 soldiers in fierce clashes during the offensive in Syria’s Afrin region, according to international reports.
Turkey began an offensive, dubbed Operation Olive Branch, on 20 January with the stated aim of hitting positions held by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Islamic State group (IS) militants, although IS is not known to have a presence in Afrin. Turkey, a NATO ally of the United States, views the main Kurdish militia as an extension of the Kurdish insurgency it has battled on its territory for decades.
The offensive has so far killed more than 60 civilians and dozens of fighters on both sides. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the operation will be expanded to other areas, including Manbij, where American forces are stationed alongside Kurdish militias.
The offensive in Afrin has further raised tensions with NATO ally the US, which backs the Kurdish YPG in control of the region.
The United States has no troops in Afrin, but supports the YPG under the banner of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting the IS in northeast Syria.
Ankara considers the YPG a terrorist organisation linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has been behind a more than 30-year insurgency against the Turkish state.
The Syrian government has called the Turkish military incursion a “blatant aggression,” raising the prospect that Damascus and Ankara could enter into direct clashes in Idlib or Afrin.
Turkey has set up refugee camps inside Syria to provide for displaced people in Idlib, to keep them on the Syrian side of what is now largely a closed border.