Turkish artillery fired into Syria’s Afrin region on Friday in what Ankara said was the start of a military campaign against the Kurdish-controlled area.
The cross-border bombardment took place after days of threats from Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to crush the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in Afrin in response to what Turkey sees as growing Kurdish strength across a wide stretch of north Syria.
“The operation has actually de facto started with cross-border shelling,” Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli said, adding that no troops had crossed into Afrin.
Direct military action against territory held by Kurdish militia would open a new front in Syria’s civil war and would see Ankara confronting Kurds allied to the United States at a time when Turkey’s relations with Washington are reaching the breaking point.
The US State Department has called on Turkey to focus on the fight against Islamic State militants and not take military action in Afrin.
Reuters TV filmed Turkish artillery at the border village of Sugedigi firing on Friday morning into Afrin region, and the YPG militia said Turkish forces had fired 70 shells at Kurdish villages in Afrin starting at midnight.
Rojhat Roj, a YPG spokesman in Afrin, said it was the heaviest Turkish bombardment since Ankara stepped up threats to take military action against the Kurdish region. The YPG would respond with utmost force to any attack on Afrin, he said.
“Currently there are no casualties, all the damages are material so far,” he said.
But Canikli said Ankara was determined to destroy the Kurdish group. “All terror networks and elements in northern Syria will be eliminated. There is no other way,” he said.