The Turkish government has warned that pro-Syrian government forces would face “serious consequences” for entering Syria’s Afrin region to help Kurdish fighters repel the Turkish offensive.
“Any step by the (Syrian) regime or other elements in this direction will surely have serious consequences,” Ibrahim Kalin, President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said on Wednesday.
Istanbul launched the military offensive called “Olive Branch” on Jan. 20 with the aim of dismantling the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) in Syria’s northern Afrin region, where Kurds have set up three autonomous cantons.
Turkey reached no previous agreement with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad before entering Syria’s territory. Syrian state news agency SANA reported that on Feb. 19 president Assad had agreed to send forces to aid the YPG in Afrin after the Kurds appealed for help to protect the northern border and Turkey announced it would besiege Afrin’s capital.
Syria has repeatedly denounced the violation of its territorial sovereignty since the Turkish military operation began.
However, Istanbul has denied that pro-Assad forces in Afrin are working in coordination with Damascus. In a previous televised news conference, Erdogan stated “in my calls with Mr. Putin and Mr. Rouhani, we had already reached an agreement on this… Unfortunately, terrorist groups like these sometimes make missteps according to their own decisions... They will pay a heavy price for this."
Kalin also said during a news conference that the pro-Syrian government forces in a convoy of 40-50 vehicles had retreated, a claim denied by a commander fighting alongside Damascus, who told Reuters they returned fire against Turkey-backed rebels in the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
The YPG played a key role in fighting ISIS, effectively pushing it out of much of northern Syria, but has now been abandoned by former allies like the United States.
The Turkish government considers the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which led an armed insurgency against Istanbul in 1984. The PKK was formed in the late 1970s at a time when the Turkish government banned Kurdish language and culture. Currently, the PKK advocates for democratic confederalism within Turkey.
The YPG has denied having political or military ties with the PKK but admits it is inspired by democratic confederalism.
Reuters reports Turkish forces have reached several kilometers into Syria, but the YPG still holds most of Afrin including its central town.
There are no official records of the death toll Turkey’s military offensive has produced, but the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 205 Istanbul-backed FSA fighters and 39 Turkish soldiers, as well as at least 219 YPG members and 112 civilian deaths, have been killed.