Turkish soldiers carry the coffin of a Turkish soldier who was reportedly killed in cross-border clashes with Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) forces in Afrin, Syria, during a funeral ceremony in Istanbul on February 11, 2018. Photo:AFP/Yasin Akgul
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Turkey’s army has announced the death of another Turkish soldier on Sunday who was killed while taking part in the Operation Olive Branch against the Kurdish-held Afrin canton, bringing the total of confirmed fatalities to 31 since January 20.
Turkey considers the People’s Protection Units (YPG) as an extension of the PKK, an outlawed Kurdish armed group involved in decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state in Turkey fighting for greater Kurdish rights in the country. The YPG denies any organic links with the PKK.
Turkish airstrikes against Kurdish areas have continued on Sunday as the Turkish Chief of Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar visited Turkey’s Hatay province on the border with Afrin to inspect his troops who are conducting a military incursion against the YPG across the border. He was accompanied by land and air commanders, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
Ankara claims that they have captured more than two dozens areas from the Kurdish force that include a town, villages, and hills.
Sipan Hamo, the commander of the YPG force, told the YPG-linked Hawar news that the Turkish operation have failed to meet its stated objectives on all fronts, claiming that they have dealt a fatal blow against the Turkish military and its Syrian proxies.
He criticized the Russian role with regards to the Turkish operation in Afrin, adding that Moscow may realize that they have made a “grave mistake,” when it is “too late.”
Russia relocated its troops it had stationed in Afrin to a Tal Rafaat area following the start of the Turkish military offensive, a move Kurdish officials interpreted as giving green light to the offensive that seeks to root out the Kurdish armed group in Afrin, the western-most canton of the Kurdish enclave in northern Syria.
The military confrontations have claimed the lives of many civilians.
The UK-based conflict monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported four civilians deaths in the last 24 hours in Afrin canton by Turkish strikes, bringing the total to 74 since Turkey launched the operation 22 days ago. Kurdish officials have claimed the death toll is at least as high as 160.
Turkey denies targeting civilians, but Hamo, the YPG commander, claimed that 90 percent of the Turkish strikes target civilian populations.
Hamo denied that the YPG force is behind cross-border mortar attacks that mainly target Hatay province north of Afrin, and has so far killed at least seven people inside the Turkish territory including Syrian refugees.