Ground troops from Turkey’s military have crossed over into northern Syria in efforts to eject Kurdish militia – considered by Turkey as a terrorist group – from the region of Afrin.
The People’s Protection Units (YPG) are known to be active within Afrin, and are integral to the US-backed alliance fighting against Islamic State (IS) within Syria.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, has vowed to eliminate the Kurdish YPG forces “very quickly”.
Who are the YPG?
Following the Qamishli uprising in 2004, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) formed the contemporary YPG. Formed from men and women from local communities, of whom most are Kurdish, the unit also works alongside:
- Assyrian; and
- Armenian Christian soldiers
YPG formed alliances with Peshmerga in the battle to free Kobane, Syria, as well as freeing the Yazidi community located in Sinjar, Iraq. Their work with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) furthered their efforts in the fight against ISIS.
Both the YPG, and the alliance – the Syrian Democratic Forces – deny that they have any terrorist links, of which has been supported by the US government.
Operation ‘Olive Branch’
The Turkish military launched operation ‘Olive Branch’ on 20 January, which aims to move Kurdish forces from Afrin. On Sunday 21 January, both Turkish troops and pro-Turkey rebels from the FSA advanced towards Syrian territory, in response to numerous air strikes on Saturday.
Binali Yildrim, Turkey’s prime minister, said that the operation will establish a 30km “safe zone” within Syria. Nouri Mahmoudi, a spokespersons for the YPG, countered that the troops were “forced to retreat”.
Turkish military announced that it had hit 45 targets on Sunday, as a result of its joint air and ground campaign, whilst several air strikes had reached 153 targets which belonged to Kurdish militants.
President Erdogan added: “Our jets took off and started bombing. And now, the ground operation is under way. Now we see how the YPG…are fleeing in Afrin”.