BEIRUT: Turkey said eight of its troops were killed on Saturday in Ankara’s military operation against a Syrian Kurdish militia, the deadliest day in the two-week-old offensive in the enclave of Afrin.
In a statement late Saturday, the Turkish military said five soldiers were killed after their tank in Syria came under attack near Afrin. The soldiers could not be saved despite all attempts, it said.
Earlier in the day, three Turkish soldiers were reported killed in the Afrin offensive — one was killed in the area of the tank attack, another in northern Syria and the third on the Turkish side of the border in what Ankara said was an attack by Syrian Kurdish militiamen.
The total death toll for Turkish troops since the operation, code-named Olive Branch, started on Jan. 20 now stands at 13.
Turkey launched the incursion into Afrin to rout the US-backed Syrian Kurdish militia, known as the People’s Protection Units or YPG, which it considers to be a terrorist organisation and an extension of Kurdish insurgents fighting within Turkey.
From Istanbul, Turkish presidential spokesman, Ebrahim Kalin, said Turkey will not tolerate the presence of the YPG “anywhere” along its southern border, hinting that Ankara might expand the Afrin operation eastward. Turkey’s first demand is to see the YPG move east of the Euphrates River and leave the town of Manbij, where American troops backing the Syrian Kurdish fighters are stationed, Kalin said.
He called on the United States to “disengage” from the YPG and said Turkey will continue communications with “our American allies to avoid any confrontation.”
Turkey shares a 911km border with Syria. The YPG controls much of the territory along the border and an uninterrupted strip from Manbij to the Iraqi border.