A Kurdish fighter looks at smoke rising from a Turkish artillery bombardment in Afrin after pro-Syrian government forces entered the region on Tuesday. Photo: George Ourfalian/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – A third convoy of pro-Syrian government fighters arrived in the Kurdish canton of Afrin, where Turkey is now in control of 15 percent of the territory, according to the conflict monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The first group of pro-regime forces arrived in Afrin on Tuesday, followed by a second group on Wednesday. They have entered the Kurdish canton on agreement with the YPG and will be deployed to the Afrin border areas, along the frontlines with Turkey.
Crowds greeted the Syrian forces, raising pictures of Abdullah Ocalan, jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They also raised the flags of both the Syrian regime and the self-proclaimed autonomous Rojava administration.
“The coming of pro-Syrian forces is to show their opposition to attacks by the Turkish state and its mercenaries,” YPG spokesperson Brusk Hasaka told ANHA news agency, Kurdish media with close ties to YPG.
They came to Afrin following the YPG’s call to Syrians to fight Turkey’s aggression, Hasaka explained.
He said the Syrian forces will fight on the frontlines alongside the YPG.
The Turkish army and its Syrian proxies launched Operation Olive Branch on January 20, with the stated aim to drive out the Kurdish forces from the border area. Ankara considers the YPG and the ruling political party in Rojava, PYD, branches of the PKK, a named terror organization.
The Kurdish groups in Syria follow the political doctrine of Ocalan, democratic confederalism, but insist they are distinct from the PKK in Turkey.
In the 34 days of Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch in Afrin, 177 fighters among the forces defending Afrin have been killed, the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) stated in a summary published on Thursday.
The SDF claimed to have killed 1,219 Turkish soldiers and their Syrian proxies since January 20. The force accused Turkey of conducting "indiscriminate attacks targeting civilian populated areas, infrastructure, drinking water pumps, and schools," in addition to nearly three thousand indiscriminate attacks with heavy weapons.
The Observatory has documented the deaths of at least 112 civilians in the fight for Afrin.
Turkey has denied all civilian casualties in its offensive. “To date, no civilians have died or even been hurt in Turkish Armed Forces operations,” Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag told state-run Anadolu Agency on Thursday.
New co-chair of Turkey's pro-Kurdish party HDP, Pervin Buldan, slammed the government's denial of civilian casualties.
"The government is spreading misinformation by saying that there are no civilian deaths and that 'terrorists' were only killed. It is a lie," she said on Thursday.
The Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) claimed they have “neutralized 1,829 terrorists” as of Thursday. They use the term “neutralized” to refer to those removed from the battlefield – whether killed, injured, or by some means taken out of the conflict.
The TAF had previously acknowledged 32 deaths within its own ranks.
Updated at 7:45 pm