A Turkish soldier writes “Turkey” on a wall in the city centre of Afrin, north-western Syria. (AP: Hasan Kirmizitas)
Turkey’s president has vowed to keep up the pressure against a US-backed Syrian Kurdish militia after his troops captured the Syrian town of Afrin, threatening to expand the military offensive into other Kurdish-held areas across northern Syria and even into neighbouring Iraq.
- Tukey pressures US to reconsider partnership with Syrian Kurdish fighters
- Afrin residents in fear of revenge attacks, looting, and abuse
- Some 200,000 people have fled Afrin in recent days
Turkish troops and their rebel allies swept into the north-west Syrian town of Afrin yesterday, the culmination of an eight-week campaign to drive the Kurdish YPG fighters from the region.
The Syrian Government demanded the Turkish troops leave Afrin, calling their control of the town “illegitimate”.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared set on forcing Washington to reconsider its partnership with the Syrian Kurdish fighters, the main US ally in the fight against the Islamic State group.
Turkey first launched its military operation in Syria in 2016, and Mr Erdogan has repeatedly said it will not allow a “terror corridor” along its border — a reference to territories controlled by the Kurdish forces, which Turkey views as terrorists because of their links to Kurdish insurgents fighting inside Turkey.
Emboldened by the capture of Afrin, Mr Erdogan went even further overnight, asserting that Turkish troops and allied Syrian forces would press eastward, targeting territory that includes Kobani, a town that has become a symbol of the fight against the Islamic State militants, as well as Qamishli, where the Syrian government controls an airport and a security zone.
Fears of revenge attacks in Afrin, reports of abuse
Turkish and Free Syrian Army soldiers wave flags in the city centre of Afrin. (AP: Hasan Kirmizitas)
Mr Erdogan insisted Turkey had no intention of “occupying” Syria, saying it was merely clearing the border area of terrorists.
But panic has already set in among Afrin’s residents, most of them Kurds, who fear Turkey will bring in loyalists and some of the 3 million Syrian refugees living inside its borders to repopulate the town.
Some 200,000 people fled Afrin in recent days as the Turkish offensive escalated, and whether they will be permitted to return remains a question.
Many feared revenge attacks, amid reports of looting and abuse of residents in the town.
Images emerged of torched stores and men, some in uniform and others in civilian clothes, walking out of homes with household goods.
Others were seen driving away with tractors and agriculture supplies. A commander with the Turkey-backed Syrian forces blamed the looting on “thieves,” and said a unit had been created to prevent further theft.
Azad Mohamed, an Afrin resident who fled, said looting was underway in nearby villages even before the Turkish forces entered the town.
“If they have not yet stolen my things, they will in an hour,” he said.
He said fear of people taking over their homes has also fuelled violent sentiments among Kurds.
“Some are saying those who come settle in our homes must be killed to prevent others from even thinking about it,” he said.
A Syrian Kurdish official told reporters more than 200,000 people who had fled the Afrin offensive were without shelter, food or water in nearby areas.
“The people with cars are sleeping in the cars, the people without are sleeping under the trees with their children,” said Hevi Mustafa, a senior member of the Afrin civil authority.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called for greater access to the civilian population of Afrin.
It said the Turkish Red Crescent aid group lacked credibility among Syrian Kurds after Turkey’s military operation.