President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday said Turkish forces would soon lay siege to Syria’s Afrin as a cross-border offensive targeting a Kurdish militia entered its second month.
On January 20, Ankara launched an air and ground operation supporting Syrian rebels against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the Afrin region of northern Syria.
Turkey views the YPG as a Syrian offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
“In the coming days, swiftly, we will lay siege to the centre of the town of Afrin,” Erdogan told parliament.
While some analysts say Turkey and pro-Ankara Syrian rebels have made slow advances, Erdogan defended the operation’s progress, saying the army wanted to avoid putting the lives of both its troops and civilians needlessly “at risk”.
“We did not go there to burn it down,” he said, adding that the operation’s aim was to “create a safe and liveable area”, where Syrian refugees in Turkey could conceivably return to.
Since Syria’s war erupted in 2011, more than 3.5 million people have sought refuge in Turkey.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor, Syrian rebels and Turkish forces have taken 45 villages since the start of the operation, most of them bordering Afrin.
And Turkish security expert Abdullah Agar said troops involved in operation “Olive Branch” had captured around 300 square kilometres (120 square miles) of territory.
Over the past month, 205 Syrian rebels have been killed, along with 219 YPG and allied fighters and 112 civilians, Observatory figures show.
The Turkish army says 32 of its troops have been killed since the offensive was launched.
Ankara strongly denies there have been any civilian casualties.