Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu confirmed Tuesday Turkey's determination to further its Syrian invasion, code named Operation Olive Branch, against the Syrian Democratic Forces in northern Syria, mainly in Afrin and Manbij.
According to Turkish local media, Çavuşoğlu claimed “our goal is not to clash with Russians, the Syrian regime or the United States, it is to battle the terrorist organization.” However, the Syrian government has criticized Turkish attacks on its soil.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, SDF, were a key player in the defeat of the Islamic State group in Syria and they led the offensive that successfully reclaimed the Islamic State group's self-declared capital: Raqqa.
In spite of their vital role, the Turkish government has been voicing its concern over the group’s growing military capabilities because it is led by the People's Protection Units, YPG, considered by the Turkish government as an extension of the insurgent Kurdistan Workers' Party, PKK, at war with the Turkish government since 1984.
The PKK was formed in the late 1970s at a time when Kurdish language and culture was banned by the Turkish government. Currently, the PKK advocates for democratic confederalism within Turkey.
The U.S., France, the United Kingdom and Russia have urged the Turkish government to show restraint in its military incursion. However, neither Turkey's NATO allies nor the Syrian government's main ally (Russia) have taken direct action against Turkish attacks on Syrian soil.
According to Turkish officials, the operation aims to establish a 30-km-deep "safe zone" across the border Syria-Turkey border. There are, however, fears that a Turk-led occupation of Afrin could bring about the ethnic cleansing of Kurds living there.
Erdogan recently said the operation "aims to give Afrin back to its rightful owners,” arguing that 55 percent of people who live in Afrin are Arabs.
Although predominantly Kurdish, the SDF are also largely composed by Arab fighters and a lesser number of Assyrians.
Since the attacks began last week, Turkish forces have reportedly hit 153 targets and captured three out of 350 villages in Afrin, but Kurdish militants claim “the Turkish military assault is being repelled." The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed a strong Kurdish counter-attack Monday allowed the YPG to recapture two villages: Shenkal and Adamaly.
So far, there are conflicting reports on the number of casualties. The aforementioned Western-based observatory reported that clashes on the northern and western edges of Afrin have resulted in at least 18 civilian deaths within Syria, while Turkish officials claim 11 rockets launched from Syria as a response to the Turkish offensive killed one and injured 47.
The Syrian government, Iran and Egypt have condemned the attack. On Sunday, Syrian President Bashar al Assad called the attacks a "brutal aggression" and lamented Turkey's support for "terrorists" in Syria. The accusation comes after reports that Turkey has roughly 10,000 Syrian opposition fighters ready to storm Afrin.
An emergency meeting was held by the United Nations Security Council on Monday to discuss the Turkish offensive. On Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said “we are not afraid of anyone on this, we are determined ... We will not live with fear and threats.”
There doesn't seem to be much reason for concern given that top U.S. and U.K. officials have recognized Turkey's "legitimate right" and "legitimate interest" in protecting its borders.