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Turkish Jets Bombard Kurds in Syria    01/20 10:05

   KOCABEYLI, Turkey (AP) -- Turkish jets bombed the Kurdish-controlled city of 
Afrin in northern Syria on Saturday, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised 
to expand Turkey's military border operations against a Kurdish group that has 
been the U.S.'s key Syria ally in the war on the Islamic State group.

   The warplanes attacked Afrin shortly before sunset, Turkish media reported. 
A Kurdish official confirmed the strikes saying they were the first by the 
Turkish military on the city, in what it has named operation "Olive Branch."

   The attack comes on the heels of a week of sharp threats by the Turkish 
government, promising to clear the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, 
from Afrin and its surrounding countryside, also called Afrin.

   Turkey says the YPG --- a group it considers a terrorist organization --- is 
an extension of an outlawed Kurdish rebel group that it is fighting inside its 
own borders. It has recruited to its cause thousands of disaffected Syrian 
opposition fighters, who view the YPG as a counter-revolutionary force in 
Syria's multi-sided civil war.

   Associated Press journalists at the Turkish border saw a convoy of buses, 
believed to be carrying Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters, traveling 
along the border across from Afrin. The convoy included at least four trucks 
carrying pickup trucks mounted with machine guns. Video from Turkey this week 
showed the military moving tanks to the border.

   The YPG is the driving force behind a coalition of north Syrian forces 
allied with the U.S. to battle the Islamic State group. With U.S. support, 
including close to 2,000 embedded forces, the coalition now controls close to a 
quarter of Syrian territory, concentrated mostly in the north east.

   Turkish leaders were infuriated by an announcement by the U.S. military 
announced one week ago that it was going to create a 30,000-strong border force 
with the Kurdish fighters to secure northern Syria. Days later, Secretary of 
State Rex Tillerson announced that the U.S. would maintain a military presence 
with the Kurds for the foreseeable future.

   Speaking in the city of Kutahya in western Turkey, Erdogan announced an 
expansion to Turkish operations in Syria, promising to move on the 
Kurdish-controlled town of Manbij and its surrounding countryside after 
completing operations in Afrin, to force out the Kurdish militia from all 
positions west of the Euphrates river.

   Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the strikes on Afrin marked the 
start of a campaign to "eliminate the PYD and PKK and Daesh elements in Afrin," 
referring to the Kurdish Democratic Union Party and the Kurdistan Worker's 
Party respectively, and using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group. 
The PYD, PKK, and YPG all look to the Kurdish Marxist-nationalist leader 
Abdullah calan as their guide. Ocalan is imprisoned by Turkey for waging a 
separatist movement in the eastern part of the country.

   The air strikes were preceded by waves of artillery strikes on the Afrin 

   Any ground operation would entail considerable military and political risk 
for Ankara. Russia keeps military observers in Afrin and has lately firmed up 
its ties with the YPG. Syria's government in Damascus says it will shoot down 
any Turkish jets on raids in the country. The YPG is estimated to have between 
8,000 and 10,000 fighters in Afrin.

   Turkey could also face blowback from the Kurdish insurgency within its own 

   A ground offensive or continued shelling would exacerbate the poor 
humanitarian situation in Afrin, which is now home to at least 800,000 
civilians, including many who arrived fleeing the fighting in other parts of 

   Turkey's military and intelligence chiefs traveled to Moscow on Thursday to 
discuss Turkey's planned operation. Russia has not removed its observers from 

   Also on Saturday, Syrian government forces and supporting militias retook a 
key air base in northwest Syria lost to rebels in 2015.

   Syria's state broadcaster said Syrian troops fought their way into the 
strategic Abu Zuhour air base on Saturday, in Idlib province.

   It was a coup for the government and allied militias who advanced swiftly to 
take the base in what was considered a stronghold for rebels and al-Qaida 

   But the advance, which began in earnest in late December, has displaced more 
than 200,000 civilians, according to the U.N., exacerbating an already dire 
humanitarian situation in the north of the country.


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