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Turkish-Led Forces Oust Kurdish Fighters In Afrin, Syria

Mar 19, 2018
Originally published on March 19, 2018 9:07 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Seven years into that war now in Syria - that grim anniversary just passed - you have an incursion by Turkish and Syrian rebel forces, and it looks like they have achieved one of their goals. They have seized the city of Afrin from YPG Kurdish fighters that Turkey is clearing away from its border. Here's more from NPR's Peter Kenyon.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: The capture of Afrin wasn't supposed to happen this quickly. Predictions from American diplomats and others warned that Turkey would face painfully slow high-casualty door-to-door urban warfare in the Afrin city center and suggested that Turkey might not be willing to risk that. As it happened, Free Syrian Army units backed by Turkish forces swept into the center with surprising ease as the YPG opposition melted away.

(SOUNDBITE OF GLASS SHATTERING, FOOTSTEPS)

KENYON: The Turkish military released a video purporting to show the capture of central Afrin. It shows tanks pulling into a town square and the Turkish flag being raised amid saluting soldiers and celebratory gunfire, although fainter gunfire in the distance could have been a sign of continuing clashes. The YPG said it was shifting into a new phase of the conflict and would continue guerrilla operations against the invaders.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was triumphant, declaring that, quote, "the terror corridor has been broken on four fronts," referring to Turkey's determination to prevent Kurdish forces from linking up their areas of control near the Turkish border. A wave of domestic support for the operation has analysts concluding that Erdogan's political support is on the rise as he faces re-election next year. Erdogan also said care has been taken to minimize civilian casualties, but the impact on residents has been severe.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported over the weekend that as many as 200,000 people fled the fighting in Afrin. In Southeast Turkey, pro-Kurdish and leftist groups called on the U.N. and other bodies to end the military operation. Turkey says its immediate goal is to make Afrin safe for the return of Syrian refugees and displaced civilians as soon as possible. What happens after that remains an open question. Erdogan has threatened to take the fight to the East, starting with Manbij, where both Kurdish and U.S. forces are stationed.

U.S. military officials say if attacked they will respond with force, but they hope a confrontation between NATO allies America and Turkey can be avoided. Diplomats from the two countries have been looking for a solution, but the State Department said last week it has yet to reach an understanding with Ankara on Manbij. A top-level meeting including the Turkish foreign minister was postponed after the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.