Turkey says 'Olive Branch' to continue until terrorists eliminated

Mattis says Turkey is fighting in the wrong part of Syria

A Kurdish militia spokesman says Turkey has shelled a city in northeastern Syria as Turkish forces press into a Syrian Kurdish enclave for the fourth straight day.

Turkey on Saturday launched Operation Olive Branch to remove PYD/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin.

"Whether it is Manbij, Afrin, the east of the Euphrates or even threats from northern Iraq, it doesn't matter", he said. Commenting on the Turkish incursion into Syria, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said: "Turkey has legitimate security concerns".

"The violence in Afrin disrupts what was a relatively stable area of Syria".

Russia and Iran support the government of President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey, which initially supported the Syrian rebels, now appears to be playing both sides in an attempt to increase its influence in the region, including seeking Russian support for its attack on the Kurds.

Differences over Syria policy have already strained Turkey's relations with Washington nearly to a breaking point. The problem is that related Syrian Kurdish forces (under a different name) have been the United States' most important ally in defeating the Islamic State.

The Islamic State's retreat also has forced the U.S.to stretch thinner its legal rationale for operating in Syria.

A senior Trump administration official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said Ankara had sent "conflicting signals" about the scope of the offensive.

But analysts say a crucial question will be whether Turkey limits the campaign to the Afrin region or extends it to the YPG held-town of Manbij or other areas to the east.

The U.S. and European Union do not, however, label the Syrian Kurdish fighters as terrorists.

"We are in full readiness to respond to any attack".

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Tuesday said the operation could spill over into the town of Manbij to the east, where some USA troops are stationed.

"The will of the people can not be vanquished", the civilian administration said in a statement.

The United Nations says an estimated 5,000 people have fled the fighting from a Turkey-led offensive on a Kurdish enclave in northern Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, reports that 25 Syrian rebels and 26 Kurdish fighters have been killed so far.

Turkey said three of its soldiers had been killed.

Ankara views the People's Protection Units (YPG), a Syrian Kurdish group.as a threat, since it is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a movement that is fighting for a separate state within Turkey.

On Tuesday, Turkey said it has killed at least 260 Syrian Kurdish fighters in four days in the Afrin region.

A second USA official denied Turkish government claims the US had delivered thousands of trucks of weapons to the Syrian Kurdish forces, saying the bulk of the supplies went to USA forces and also included ammunition, food and humanitarian supplies. In addition, rockets have been fired into bordering Turkish towns from within Syria.

Asked whether he believes the Indonesian special forces units have reformed sufficiently to merit resuming USA military cooperation, Mattis said, "Yes", adding that the Pentagon will follow established procedures for further easing its restrictions.

With heavy cloud hindering air support in the last 24 hours, advances have been limited and Kurdish fighters have retaken some territory.

Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters have been trying to take the summit of Bursaya Hill, overlooking the eastern approach to Afrin town.

The Observatory said the offensive took control of two villages so far. He attributed this to fierce resistance from YPG fighters who are from Afrin, and the hilly terrain of the area.

Moscow had withdrawn observer forces from Afrin allowing Turkey to carry out its air offensive when the invasion started, a move that came after talks between the Kremlin and Ankara.

The U.S. has been arming the Syrian Democratic Forces or SDF in combatting the Islamic State group.

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