Turkey’s defense minister has confirmed the Turkish military has begun cross-border shelling of the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin in what he further describes as the “de facto start” of the operation in order to destroy – in President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s words – Kurdish “terror nests” – and which has been dubbed previously by Turkey as a ‘massive cross-border attack.’
Defense Minister Nuettin Canikli said Friday that Ankara “has no option” regarding the planned invasion of Northern Syria to dislodge the YPG (Kurdish “People’s Protection Units”) and other factions, which it considers an extension of the “terrorist” PKK. Kurdish YPG militias and their media arms began reporting sporadic shelling and clashes earlier this week.
Crucially, the Turkish state-run news agency Anadoul confirmed that Russian military personnel have started pulling out of Afrin ahead of Turkey’s “expected” and imminent cross-border military operation. Russia has administered ‘deconfliction’ zones in the Afrin area while controlling airspace overhead, and has sponsored trilateral talks with Turkey and Iran which seeks cooperation among the three powers to wind down the war in Syria. The Russian military has long had “military advisors” on the ground in Afrin, which have in the past helped coordinate the fight against ISIS.
Image via AFP
As we explained previously, the question of whether or not the large-scale Turkish assault on the Syrian Kurds moves forward or not depends in large part on Russia. On Thursday Turkey signaled that it had Russia cooperation in its planned invasion, though this was not confirmed by Moscow. As Reuters reported, “Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also told broadcaster CNN Turk that Turkey will coordinate with Russia and Iran on an air operation in Afrin.”
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