On Sunday, Turkey began a cross-border ground infiltration into Afrin, a Kurdish-controlled area inside Syria. This follows a day of Turkish aerial bombardment in a military offensive called Operation Olive Branch, in which airstrikes have hit more than 150 targets.

At a Sunday rally in Bursa, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned Kurdish activists against staging protests. He called the military offensive part of “a national struggle,” adding, “We will crush anyone who opposes our national struggle.”

Click here to see an Associated Press article on the conflict posted on Truthdig earlier Sunday.

With the new ground incursion, Turkey hopes to eliminate the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and their political arm, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), from the area. Erdoğan views them as the Syrian wing of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which Turkey considers a terrorist group.

The YPG has been the main ally of the United States in Syria in its war against Islamic State. Last week, a United States-led coalition announced a plan to build a 30,000-strong Border Security Force (BSF). The stated goal included protecting the territory held by the Kurds in Syria’s northeast.

Erdoğan accused the U.S. of creating a “terror army” and said he plans to “strangle it before it’s even born.”

The Guardian reports:

Turkish officials on Sunday insisted the operation in Afrin was aimed at clearing out the Kurdish militias ruling the enclave, which they [charged] had repeatedly harassed and targeted Turkish positions near the border.

Bekir Bozdag, the deputy prime minister and government spokesman, said in a briefing with reporters the campaign was “not against the Kurds” and that Ankara would defeat the YPG there and restore democratic institutions and infrastructure.

He repeated earlier claims that the local population had suffered oppression under the Kurdish militias and would welcome Turkey’s intervention and the Ankara-backed rebels participating in the campaign. “People there are asking Turkey to cleanse the region and save them as well,” he said.

There are an estimated 600,000 civilians in Afrin, and Turkey says there may be up to 10,000 YPG fighters.

Turkey intervened in the war in Syria in August 2016 to limit Kurdish expansion west of the Euphrates river and to drive Isis, which controlled key border towns, from the area as well. The Afrin offensive was launched after Ankara apparently obtained Russia’s blessing, dispatching its chief of intelligence and the army’s chief of staff to Moscow in recent days.

Since the failed military coup in Turkey in 2016, the Turkish government has dismissed over 125,000 people from their jobs and arrested about 40,000 others, including 140 writers and journalists. Over 130 media outlets have been shut down. Erdoğan blames the failed coup on the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, 75, who lives in Pennsylvania. Repeated calls for his extradition have been ignored by the U.S.

Wait, before you go…

If you're reading this, you probably already know that non-profit, independent journalism is under threat worldwide. Independent news sites are overshadowed by larger heavily funded mainstream media that inundate us with hype and noise that barely scratch the surface. We believe that our readers deserve to know the full story. Truthdig writers bravely dig beneath the headlines to give you thought-provoking, investigative reporting and analysis that tells you what’s really happening and who’s rolling up their sleeves to do something about it.

Like you, we believe a well-informed public that doesn’t have blind faith in the status quo can help change the world. Your contribution of as little as $5 monthly or $35 annually will make you a groundbreaking member and lays the foundation of our work.

Support Truthdig