Turkey's forces seek new front in battle for Kurd territory

Saturday, 27 Jan, 2018

Turkey's air and ground assault against Kurdish forces in Afrin, known as "Operation Olive Branch" has opened a new front the Syrian war and could once again lead to a shift in allegiances between warring factions on the ground or their foreign sponsors.

Erdogan said the plan is to now extend the mission to Manbij, a city captured from the Islamic State movement in 2016 by Kurdish-led forces, backed by the US. However, the U.S. made a decision to step back in the conflict between the SDF and Turkey, saying that they no longer hold an interest in Afrin. Analysts have cautioned that the area could be a flashpoint in already strained relations between Washington and Ankara.

"We would urge them to limit the incursion as much as possible", the official said, who said the phone call would happen soon.

Moscow has not confirmed any deal, but the YPG said Russian Federation had "opened the skies of Afrin" to Turkish warplanes.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited a military command center in southern Hatay province on Thursday as the ongoing operation in northern Syria entered its sixth day, according to a presidential source.

Six days into the campaign, Turkish soldiers and their Free Syrian Army rebel fighter allies have been battling to gain footholds on the western, northern and eastern flanks of Afrin.

The group said that 28 civilians, including eight children, were among those killed.

Tekinaslan confirmed the first death, saying one civilian, who was critically injured, had died in hospital.

The assault by Turkish troops against a Kurdish militia in northern Syria has seen Washington's fellow North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member Ankara attacking a US-allied force, even raising fears of military confrontation between the two Alliance powers. Earlier this week, a Syrian refugee was killed by a similar strike. "The coalition forces that are in that area have an inherent right to defend themselves and will do so if necessary". He called it a grave and very painful situation, accusing the United States of working with terrorist organizations.

On Saturday, Turkey launched a cross-border offensive into Syria in a bid to crush the YPG, which it regards as a terrorist group.

Manbij is located to the east of Afrin.

The offensive underscores America's limited leverage in Syria given its engagement has been largely focused on the defeat of ISIS, according to Heras of the Center for a New American Security.

"We recognize and fully appreciate Turkey's legitimate right to protect its own citizens from terrorist elements", he said, adding that Washington is aiming to "see what we can do to work together to address Turkey's legitimate security concerns".

So when the Turkish offensive on Afrin began, the YPG was quick to describe it as "clear support" for Daesh and to accuse Turkey of wanting to give militants breathing space by diverting attention and resources to Afrin. The Syrian Kurdish group is a main part of a US -backed rebel alliance that has inflicted recent defeats on Islamic State militants.

In the short-term, analysts say, the United States has little pressure it can apply on Turkey given the USA military's heavy dependence on a Turkish base to carry out airstrikes in Syria against the Islamic State militant group.