Turkey Invades Syria, Clashes With Kurdish Forces
On January 20, Turkey launched an air and ground offensive, which it called “Olive Branch”, against the Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin in northern Syria.
As the offensive progressed rapidly, it became obvious that such an ambitious operation could not have been possible without Russia’s explicit approval.
First of all, the operation required the Turkish Air Force to enter Syria’s airspace – something Ankara could not have done without consulting Russia. Furthermore, before rechannelling Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces to Afrin, Ankara needed assurances from Russia that Bashar al-Assad would not take advantage of the situation and attempt to seize Turkish-controlled positions in the province of Idlib.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters in Syria, also knew that it would be impossible for Turkey to start the operation “Olive Branch” without coordinating with Moscow. As a result, SDF representatives hastily expressed their disappointment with Russia’s stance on the issue.
Turkish authorities warned they would prosecute individuals opposing or criticizing the Afrin offensive.
On Monday, Turkey’s interior ministry said that a total of 311 people had been held for “spreading terrorist propaganda” since the operation began 10 days ago.
It comes after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) over an anti-war message.
Mr Erdogan said that doctors from the medical association were “filth” and “terrorist lovers” after they had warned that Turkey’s military operation could turn into a humanitarian tragedy.
The Turkish president added that such comments were a “betrayal”, and referred to members of the association as “agents of imperialism”.
He was referring to comments last week in which the TTB denounced the cross-border operation, calling for “peace immediately”.
The association later said it had a responsibility to speak out, adding that remarks by senior government officials had made it a target of attacks.
The interior ministry said it had opened an investigation into the actions of the TTB.
Kurdish activists say dozens of civilians have been killed in Turkey’s air strikes and shelling since it launched its air and ground offensive against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the north-western border region of Afrin.