Turkish military operation in Afrin

Turkish military operation in Afrin
Part of the Syrian Civil War and the Turkish involvement in the Syrian Civil War
Operation Olive Branch.svg
     Turkish-backed opposition control     Kurdish control     Syrian Army control     Syrian Army and Kurdish controlFor a more detailed, up-to-date, interactive map, see here.
Date 20 January 2018 [a]present
(2 months)
Location Afrin District and Azaz District, northern Aleppo Governorate, Syria
Status Ongoing
Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (TFSA) [1]
Other rebel factions [2]
Democratic Federation of Northern Syria
Syria (since 20 February) [3] [4]
Sinjar Alliance [5]
International Freedom Battalion (IFB) [6]
Supported by:
Iran Iran [7] (alleged)
Commanders and leaders

Turkey Lt. Gen. İsmail Metin Temel [18]
(Operations chief commander)
Maj. Yasser Abdul Rahim [19]
( Sham Legion commander)
Lt. Col. Muhammad Hamadin [20]
(Third Legion and Levant Front commander)

Syrian opposition Col. Ahmed Othman [21]
(Sultan Murad Division top commander)
Syrian opposition Fehim Isa [22]
(Second Corps and Sultan Murad Division commander)
Syrian opposition Ebubekir Seyf [23]
(Hamza Division top commander)
Abu Muslim [19]
( Levant Front commander)
Ahmad Fayyadh al-Khalaf  [24]
(Samarkand Brigade field commander)
Lt. Wael al-Mousa  [25]
(First Legion commander)
Bahjt Abedo [26]
( Afrin Region defense minister) [27]
Mehmud Berxwedan [28]
(YPG and SDF Afrin commander)
Tokshin Botan  [29]
(YPJ commander)
Zilan Judy  [29]
(YPJ commander)
Haji Ahmed [30]
(Army of Revolutionaries commander)
Abu Omar al-Idlibi [31]
(Northern Democratic Brigade commander)
Viyan İsyan [32]
( MLKP commander)
Ibrahim Maktabi
(NDF commander) [33]
Mohamed al Faraj
(NDF commander) [34]
Muthanna Nasser  [35]
(NDF commander)
Units involved
See order of battle See order of battle

Turkey 6,400 [36]

10,000–25,000 [46] [47]
8,000–10,000 (late January) [48]
20,000 (late February) [49]
800+ [50]
Casualties and losses

Per SOHR: [51]
437 killed
Turkey 78 killed

Per SDF:
Turkey 1,588 killed [52]

Per Turkey:
163+ killed [53]

Turkey 46 killed, 225 wounded [54]

Per SOHR: [51]
1,500 killed
91 killed

Per SDF:
820 killed [55]
62 killed [56]

Per Turkey:

3,647 killed, wounded or captured [57]
289–500 civilians killed in Syria
(per SOHR & SDF) [b] [51] [55]
7–9 civilians killed in Turkey [58] [59] (2 Syrians) [60]

a The TAF announced the start of Operation Olive Branch on 20 January, [61] while the Turkish Defence Minister stated it "de facto started with cross-border shelling" the day before [62] when one additional SDF fighter was killed. [63]

b Denied by Turkey, [64] but confirmed by Turkey's pro-Kurdish HDP. [65]

In January 2018, the Turkish military launched a military operation, code-named by Turkey as Operation Olive Branch ( Turkish: Zeytin Dalı Harekâtı), in the SDF-controlled Afrin District and the Tell Rifaat Subdistrict. The offensive is against the Kurdish-led Democratic Union Party in Syria (PYD), [66] its armed wing People's Protection Units (YPG), [67] and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) positions surrounding the Syrian city of Afrin. [62] Turkey also claims it is fighting ISIL, [68] though the group does not exist in Afrin. [69] [70] [71] [72] [73] Afrin and the surrounding area is claimed by the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria as Afrin Canton, part of its Afrin Region. On 18 March, the Turkish-backed forces had taken full control of the centre of Afrin city. [74] With the capture, many civilians fled from the Turkish-backed rebels who then looted the homes and businesses of the local population after their departure. [75] It is the first major military operation by Turkey in Syria since Operation Euphrates Shield.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has stated that the operation in Afrin would be followed by a push in the northern town of Manbij, [76] which the US-backed SDF captured from ISIL in 2016. [48] U.S. generals said they will respond "aggressively" if such a provocation is made against them. [77] The YPG announced that it would protect the people of Afrin and respond to the Turkish army. [78] Between 295 and 510 civilians have been reported killed [51] [55] [59] and at least 150,000 civilians have been displaced since the operation started. [79] [80] [81] Other war crime allegations include the mutilation of a female corpse by TFSA fighters, [82] the killing of civilians due to indiscriminate shelling by Turkish forces, [83] the use of chemical gas by the Turkish army, [84] and the indiscriminate shooting of refugees fleeing from the conflict area into Turkey by Turkish border guards. [85]

Erdoğan has threatened there will be a "heavy price" for those who have protested against the military offensive. [86] [87] Hundreds of individuals have been detained for demonstrating against the operation. [88] Over 800 social media users and nearly 100 politicians and journalists have been detained for criticizing the operation. [89] [90] [91] Turkish authorities have also arrested numerous leaders and high-ranking members of pro-Kurdish and left-wing political parties. [92]


Demonstration in Afrin (top) to support the YPG and the YPJ against the Turkish military operation, and demonstration in Bizaah (bottom) to support the Turkish military operation in Afrin against the YPG and the YPJ, 19 January 2018.

In the course of the Syrian Civil War, pro-Assad government forces pulled out of Afrin in the spring of 2012. The People's Protection Units (YPG) took control of the city soon afterwards. [93] [94] Afrin Canton as a de facto autonomous part was declared on 29 January 2014 [95] [96] and the territory has virtually been spared from civil war combat, with ISIS never having attacked the city. Afrin managed to maintain some trust with both the Syrian government and its neighboring rebel groups. [97] In February 2016, during the latter part of the Battle of Aleppo, Syrian government forces cut-off the rebel supply route to Aleppo. Subsequently, the SDF moved east out of Afrin and successfully attacked the rebels, capturing the Menagh Military Airbase and the town of Tell Rifaat. In response, Turkish forces shelled SDF positions across the border to protect the rebel-held town of Azaz. [98] [99] In 2017, Russian military troops stationed themselves in Afrin as part of an agreement to protect the YPG from further Turkish attacks. [100]

Turkey had been fighting PKK and other groups in southeastern and eastern Turkey for several decades. The Kurdish–Turkish conflict is estimated to have cost 40,000 lives. The Turkish government has publicly stated that it does not recognize a difference between the Syrian YPG forces and PKK, and claims both are terrorist organizations. [101] While the PKK has been designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States, the United States' position on the YPG is that it is not a terrorist organization, a stance that has generated much conflict between the two NATO allies. [102] [103] Despite this, the CIA named the PYD as the "Syrian wing" of the PKK in its World Factbook on 23 January 2018. [104] However, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) remarked that "Turkey supports anything that harms the Kurds," and stated that Turkey has consistently been allowing jihadist fighters to cross the Turkish border into Syria to fight Kurdish forces since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War. [105] On 14 February, Director of National Intelligence described YPG as the Syrian wing of PKK in its new report. [106]

The offensive came amid growing tension between the Turkish and American governments over the latter's support of the Syrian Democratic Forces, which are made up primarily of Kurdish fighters of the YPG, which Turkey considers to be a branch of the PKK. In particular, Turkey objected to announced plans by the US to train and equip a 30,000 strong SDF border force, which Turkey claimed posed a direct threat to their security. "A country we call an ally is insisting on forming a terror army on our borders," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a speech in Ankara. "What can that terror army target but Turkey? Our mission is to strangle it before it's even born." [107]

According to media reports with reference to sources in the Syrian Kurdish leadership, shortly before the Turkish incursion, as an alternative option, Russia proposed that the Kurdish authorities in Afrin recognise the Syrian government′s control in the region; the proposal was rejected at the time. [108] [109]

In the days prior to the offensive, Turkey and the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army exchanged artillery fire with YPG militants along the Turkish-Syrian border near Afrin. The YPG shelled the TFSA-held town of Azaz. [110] [111] The Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency reported that Russian military observers in the Afrin area began withdrawing on 19 January 2018 in anticipation of a Turkish offensive on YPG positions in Afrin. [112] [113]

On 12 February, Turkey’s Interior Ministry added former PYD co-leader Salih Muslim Muhammad to its "wanted terrorists" list along with several new names and offered money for information on his whereabouts. [114] On 25 February, Salih Muslim was detained in Prague at Turkey's request. [115] Turkish officials said that Muslim will appear before a court in Prague. Turkish Deputy PM Bekir Bozdağ said that Turkey is requesting Muslim's extradition. [116] However Czech court released Muslim. [117] Turkish Deputy PM said this was "a move in support of terror". [118]

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