Turkey’s Erdogan wrests control of Afrin city centre from Kurds
Turkey wrested control of the the Kurdish-majority Syrian city of Afrin on Sunday after two months of heavy fighting and the displacement of an estimated 200,000 people.
Syrian rebel fighters backed by Ankara raised Turkish and Syrian rebel flags in the centre of Afrin after Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters moved in Sunday morning following the retreat of Kurdish militias.
It marked a win for Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said in a speech that “many of the terrorists had turned tail and run away already.”
It also marked something of a defeat for his foe, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, after government-allied Shiite forces joined the Kurds in battle in late February.
The battle for Afrin was part of what Turkey code-named Operation Olive Branch, a deadly ground-and-air offensive to dislodge Kurdish YPG and YPJ militias from the Turkish border.
Turkey considers the groups to be related to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which has waged a bloody, decades-long insurgency inside Turkey.
Since the offensive’s launch in January, some 1,500 Kurdish fighters have been killed, observers said Sunday.
According to figures released by the Turkish army, 46 Turkish soldiers have been killed since the start of the Afrin offensive.
Scores of civilians were also killed, particularly in recent days as Turkish warplanes homed in on Afrin’s centre.
On Saturday, Turkey’s military denied responsibility for a strike on a hospital that killed 16, including two pregnant women.
Monitors and YPG sources claimed some “pockets of resistance” remained inside the city, but with Syrian rebel fighters combing the streets since Sunday morning, it was unclear how long any resistance might last.
Syrian Kurdish officials claimed Sunday that their near-complete ousting from Afrin marked not a defeat but “a new phase” of guerrilla warfare.
"Our troops will turn into a continuous nightmare for them," said Othman Sheikh Issa, an official from Afrin.
Mr Issa said the war against "the Turkish occupation" would change from a direct confrontation to "hit and run tactics," until the liberation of Afrin from Turkish troops.
He warned that the Kurdish militia remained present in the district and would target the Turkish military and its allied Syrian troops at every chance.
Operation Olive Branch has brought Mr Erdogan into an awkward position, turning his country’s considerable firepower on militias backed by the US, his Nato ally with the only Nato army larger than Turkey’s.
Many of the FSA militias fighting alongside Turkish forces had once received backing from the US, further muddying the waters in northeastern Syria.
As Mr Erdogan claimed victory in Afrin, Syrian President Assad signalled the same with a high-profile visit to Eastern Ghouta, where his own forces are operating with Russian backing to obliterate resistance to his rule.
A blistering aerial campaign and fierce ground fighting has made for a deeply asymmetrical battle between Russian, Syrian and Iran-backed fighters and the vastly outgunned anti-Assad militias who have claimed this stretch since 2012.
Eastern Ghouta, a 40 square mile agricultural belt to the east of Damascus, is one of a diminishing number of opposition strongholds in Syria.
Syrian government forces launched a major offensive in Eastern Ghouta on 18 February. In the past week, they have chewed through resistance and broken the rebels’ territory into three under a seemingly unending barrage of airstrikes, barrel bombs, artillery and suspected chemical weapons.
Mr Assad now controls 80 percent of the region, which was likely a factor in his appearance Sunday afternoon, chatting with troops on the front lines of newly captured areas.
Syrian state-run television broadcast still imagines of Mr Assad standing near a tank, surrounded by soldiers. Earlier, state media said Syrian troops had entered Saqba, a town in a southern pocket of Eastern Ghouta.
It was the latest town to be captured by Syria and allied militia in a swift advance over the last few days.
Sunday saw a minor lull in fighting in some parts of Eastern Ghouta as the Syrian army gave rebels a mid-afternoon deadline to leave Harasta, the smallest of the three rebel-controlled parcels of land.
The outcome of this ultimatum was not clear on Sunday evening.
According to Russian monitors, more than 25,000 people left Eastern Ghouta on Sunday through humanitarian corridors.
Syria – Operation Olive Branch
According to the UN, at least 20,000 left the area between 11 and 17 March.
Syria’s war, now in its eighth year, has been marked by international unwillingness or inability to enforce the laws of war and protect civilians.
The fighting in Eastern Ghouta and Afrin has blazed on despite a UN resolution calling for ceasefire in February.
According to activists inside Eastern Ghouta, 1,172 people have been killed since the ceasefire, and another 4,938 wounded.
The same office, the Central Department of Statistics counts 2,924 civilians killed since fighting escalated on 19 February.
Click Here: essendon bombers guernsey 2019