Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies swept into the northwestern Syrian town of Afrin on Sunday، raising their flags in the town center and declaring full control after an eight-week campaign to drive out Kurdish YPG forces. A spokesman for the rebel fighters said they entered Afrin before dawn، meeting no resistance. A war monitor، the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights، said pockets of YPG fighters defied orders to withdraw، but Turkish forces were in control.
The fight for Afrin، a once stable pocket of northwest Syria، has opened a new front in Syria’s multi-sided civil war and highlighted the ever greater role of foreign powers such as Turkey in the seven-year-old conflict.
Ankara says Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters are an extension of a militant group waging an insurgency inside Turkey، and vowed to crush what it described as a “terror corridor” of YPG-controlled territory along Turkey’s southern border with Syria.
It launched its campaign eight weeks ago and has threatened to extend the offensive to another Kurdish-controlled region further east where U.S. forces are stationed alongside the YPG، Washington’s ally against Islamic State in Syria.
“Afrin city center is under control as of 8:30 this morning،” Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told a rally commemorating the World War One Gallipoli campaign، adding that Turkish and Free Syrian Army flags had been raised in the town center.
“Most of the terrorists have already fled with tails between their legs. Our special forces and members of the Free Syrian Army are cleaning the remains and the traps they left behind،” Erdogan said. “In the center of Afrin، symbols of trust and stability are waving instead of rags of terrorists.”
An official from the local Kurdish authority said Kurdish forces were present across the Afrin region and would “strike the positions of the Turkish enemy and its mercenaries at every opportunity.”
“Our forces all over Afrin will become a constant nightmare for them،” Othman Sheikh Issa، co-chair of the Afrin executive council، said in a televised statement.