On Friday and Saturday the skies above Kurdistan province in Syria was alight with artillery and missile fire as Turkish forces attacked Afrin in northern Syria’s Aleppo governate in what Turkey calls “Operation Olive Branch”, with Turkey waging war on the Kurds.
Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikili confirmed that Turkish forces had shelled areas in Afrin controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG. The YPG is the armed faction of the PKK Kurdistan Worker’s party, an organization the Turkish government has deemed a terrorist organization.
The YPK is backed by the U.S. military, which plans to train 30,000 personnel in parts of northeast Syria. Despite calls from the U.S. for restraint, Turkish forces attacked with rockets, and mortar fire into two border towns, wounding dozens, according to the local governor’s office and a witness.
Russian military adviser units in and around Aleppo began pulling back from the region in preparation for the Turkish assault. The head of the Turkish delegation to NATO, Ahmet Berat Conkar, confirmed that the Russian withdrawal was tied to the Assault on Afrin, stating to Al Jazzera that “Russia is taking steps to move its forces in Afrin away from the areas where there might be clashes [during Turkey’s operation]”
According to Birusk Hasaka, a YPG spokesperson in Afrin, “intense Turkish artillery fire and air strikes continued to hit some villages, while fierce battles raged to the north and west of Afrin against Turkish forces and their rebel allies”.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, stated on Sunday that “We’ll work this out”, while the State Department issued a statement, “We urge Turkey to exercise restraint and ensure that its military operations remain limited in scope and duration and scrupulous to avoid civilian casualties,”.
According to Reuters, Russia, which backs the Syrian regime in the civil war, demanded the United Nations that Turkey halt the assault on Afrin according to a member of the Russian parliament’s security committee.
The Kurds have faced continued opposition in Iraq, Turkey, and Syria and remain a stateless group. Last fall Kurdish forces lost control of areas in the Kirkuk province in Iraq as its Peshmerga forces were relinquished from duty by the Iraqi military.
While Kurdish forces were essential to overthrowing ISIS control in the latest offensive against the terror group, their hopes of peace have been delayed by continued conflict in Syria, Turkey, and other Kurdish populated regions.