Pro-Turkish forces pillage Afrin after taking Syrian city

Glen Norman
March 19, 2018

Turkish military and allied Syrian forces marched into the center of the northern Syrian town of Afrin Sunday, raising their flags and shooting in the air in celebration almost two months after launching their offensive on the Kurdish enclave.

And a statue of Kurdish hero Kawa, a symbol of resistance against oppressors, was torn down as Turkish forces and their allies fanned across the city and fired into the air to celebrate their victory.

A Whatsapp group run by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces said Turkish and Syrian rebel troops tore down a statue in Afrin, in what it called a "blatant violation of Kurdish people's culture and history".

"Afrin city center is under control as of 8:30 this morning", Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told a rally commemorating the World War One Gallipoli campaign, adding that Turkish and Free Syrian Army flags had been raised in the town center.

On Jan. 20, the Turkish army launched "Operation Olive Branch" to expel the People's Protection Units (YPG), seen by Ankara as the Syrian affiliate to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been engaged in an armed conflict against the Turkish government since 1984.

Analysts said if the capture of Afrin city is the main target of the Turkish incursion, there are more risks ahead for the military.

The YPG denies any direct organisational links to the PKK - an assertion backed by the U.S., which is allied with the YPG in the battle against the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) in Syria.

Free Syrian Army spokesman Mohammad al-Hamadeen said the fighters entered the town from the north, east and west.

The Kurdish YPG militia, which controlled Afrin, had withdrawn from the area just hours before amid fierce air and artillery strikes.

A demonstration supported by the Oxford Emergency Committee for Afrin started in Manzil Gardens at about 3.30pm today and was backed by some members of the Kurdish and Syrian community living in Oxfordshire. "My thanks for them", Lutfiye Dunca, the wife of 43-years old Mithat Dunca - a Turkish soldier martyred in Turkey's ongoing operation in Afrin on Saturday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said pockets of YPG fighters were defying orders to withdraw, but Turkish forces were in control. Erdogan threatened to move to Manbij, a Kurdish-run town to the east where US troops have also maintained a presence after it was cleared of Islamic State militants in 2016.

The statement also said civilians had not fled, but were evacuated "to avoid a worse catastrophe".

"We have more to do. But terror and terrorists in Afrin are over", he said.

France's foreign minister said Turkey's concerns for its border security did not justify "the deep incursion of Turkish troops in the Afrin zone", which could also weaken global action against remaining Islamic State fighters in Syria.

The army posted a video on social media showing a soldier holding a Turkish flag and a man waving the Syrian opposition flag on the balcony of the district parliament building with a tank stationed on the street.

Mr. Erdoğan has said that the operation could move on to other Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Syria.

Turkey also fears the establishment of a Kurdish self-ruled zone in Syria that could inspire its own Kurdish minority to press for greater autonomy.

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