Turkish soldiers near Turkey’s border with Syria’s Idlib in October. Photo: Ilyas Akengin/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Turkish government has dispatched a military convoy of five tanks to its borders with Syria following President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s call on Kurdish forces to withdraw from Manbij and Afrin in Rojava, northern Syria, according to Anadolu Agency.
The tanks were sent as reinforcements to those forces already on the border, the state-run media report, citing an anonymous military source.
The Kurdish force in Rojava, People’s Protection Units (YPG), has not confirmed the deployment, but Turkish forces began an offensive, bombarding villages in Afrin on Saturday afternoon, according to YPG-linked ANHA media.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, formerly known as al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, also shelled the area and the YPG responded, ANHA reported.
The fighting waned in the evening but spiked again shortly before midnight.
Erdogan has hinted that they will soon launch an offensive against the Kurdish forces in northern Syria.
"God willing, in the coming days we will resume the operation of cleaning [our] southern borders from terror in Afrin, which we began with the Euphrates Shield Operation," he said during his party's provincial congress in Tokat on Sunday afternoon.
Turkey began its Euphrates Shield Operation in northern Syria in August 2016, ousting ISIS from areas north of Aleppo, around Jarablus and al-Bab, near Manbij, and preventing Kurdish advances.
At another party event the day before, Erdogan gave a blazing speech, threatening to attack Kurdish forces if they do not leave Afrin.
“If the terrorists in Afrin do not surrender, we will destroy it,” he said.
“We will destroy those looters that have come together, believing [they] have formed an army, within a week,” he declared.
The YPG is the dominant groups within the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of northern Syrian forces that has been backed by the US-led coalition in the war against ISIS with weapons, training, and support.
The SDF is now in control of about a quarter of Syrian territory and are working to become a professional army.
Turkey has condemned US support for the YPG and SDF, groups Ankara believes are extensions of the PKK, a named terrorist organization.
In his speech on Saturday, Erdogan said the US has sent 4,900 trucks of artillery to the YPG.
YPG spokesperson Rojhat Roj told Associated Press that Turkey regularly bombards Afrin, but Saturday’s shelling was different because it was intensive and lasted for a longer time.
"We are seeing preparations,” he said. “The YPG will defend itself against any aggression."
Turkish officials have repeatedly said they will not allow a “terror corridor” on its borders and would carry out a military offensive in northern Syria to prevent Kurdish advances.
Aldar Khalil, co-president of the executive body of the Movement for a Democratic Society (TEV-DEM), the ruling coalition in Rojava, told Reuters this week that the Syrian conflict could be extended if Turkey tries to “stir up problems in some areas.”
Saleh Moslem, former leader of the PYD and now a foreign relations official for TEV-DEM, on Saturday warned Turkey against attacking Kurdish areas in Afrin. “The Kurdish people will rise up as a whole. It will be total warfare,” he said.
In Manbij, Sherwan Darwish, spokesperson for Manbij Military Council, said that some parties are trying to spread hatred in Manbij.
“We have full knowledge that the Syrian regime and the mercenaries of Euphrates Shield work day and night to hit the civil peace in Manbij and create chaos by moving their sleeper cells,” he stated on Saturday.
He said the council will work to protect all the people in the ethnically diverse city.
Updated at 3:01pm