Pentagon's arms supplies to pro-US units trigger Afrin operation - Defense Ministry

Pentagon's arms supplies to pro-US units trigger Afrin operation - Defense Ministry

Turkey launched airstrikes against Kurdish separatist fighters and Islamic State positions in northwest Syria Saturday after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ignored calls from the avoid attacking Afrin.

The Kurds were Washington's most trusted force in the USA -led campaign to drive Islamic State extremists from Syria, but the Turkish government says they work hand-in-hand with PKK militants who have been battling for autonomy in Turkey's southeast since the 1980s.

"We will destroy the terror corridor gradually as we did in Jarabulus and El-bab operations, starting from the west. Afrin operation has de-facto started in the field". The U.S. recognizes the PPK as a terrorist outfit, but the militias in Afrin are associated with the YPG - an entirely different organization that has fought side by side with the battling both ISIS and insurgents in Iraq.

Turkey is making the final preparations for an attack on the Kurdish-controlled Syrian province of Afrin, but there are still Russian troops on the ground, pro-government newspaper Habertürk said.

Ankara is carrying out the intensifying offensive in an effort to push Kurdish forces from the territory they have held since 2012, likely angering the United States who consider Kurds a close ally.

Turkish Chief of the General Staff on Saturday talked on phone with his US counterpart Gen. Joseph Dunford and Russian Gen. Valery Gerasimov before the start of Operation Olive Branch, a statement said.

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he met Cavusoglu to clarify the issue, and said the situation had been "misportrayed, misdescribed".

Egid Rashid, head of Afrin's media office said that Turkish troops had attempted to cross the border near the village of Baliya on Friday but had been repelled by the YPG.

While the United States military has said it will continue to support the SDF, the USA does not have a presence in Afrin.

"It was emphasised that we are ready, immediately and decisively, to take the steps needed to eliminate the threats... coming from the west of Syria", it added.

Any ground operation would entail considerable military and political risk for Ankara.

The YPG's growing strength across a swath of northern Syria has alarmed Ankara, which fears the creation of an independent Kurdish state on its southern border.

The U.S. military said in a statement emailed to journalists that the force would be "internally focused".

He called on Russia to support the operation and said Turkey would work with the country "to prevent any mishaps" that could affect Russian forces in the area. But the Kurds also see the force as protecting the autonomous area they've carved out independent of the Syrian government.