Updated January 22
Russia is in agreement with Turkey over the operation in Syria’s Efrin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday.
Turkey launched “Operation Olive Branch” late Saturday, conducting airstrikes across the Syrian border at Efrin. Russian troops withdrew from Efrin ahead of the Turkish airstrikes.
On Sunday, Turkish armed forces initiated ground operations against Efrin, focused mainly on its northern border with Turkey. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said troops crossed into Syria at 0805 GMT and that Turkey aimed to create a security zone 30 kilometres (18 miles) wide, which would include the majority of Efrin.
Yildirim’s office later released a list of 12 goals for the operation, which included: to take control of a 10,000-square kilometer area; to take control of the Tel Rifaat region; and to prevent a Kurdish route to the Mediterranean sea.
Late on Sunday night, the Turkey-backed Syrian Interim Government announced that its Syrian National Army coalition of Free Syrian Army groups was joining the operation, adding that it would also attack Manbij, a claim later denied by a representative of the Syrian National Council which forms part of the Syrian Interim Government. On Monday, Turkey’s armed forces said the operation was extending to Azaz, inside Syria to the east of Efrin.
“We have an agreement”
“We are determined. Afrin will be sorted out. We will take no step back. We spoke about this with our Russian friends. We have an agreement,” Erdogan said on Monday.
“We spoke with the Coalition, and with the U.S., but couldn’t convince the U.S. not to fight terrorism with the help of another terrorist organization.”
Turkey views the predominately-Kurdish YPG, which makes up the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces, and its linked PYD political party which control Efrin as extensions of Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a decades-long insurgency mainly in Turkey’s majority-Kurdish southwest. The SDF has been a key U.S. partner against Islamic State.
Erdogan said Turkey would not “step back” from the offensive on Efrin.
Lavrov says U.S. encourages Kurdish separatism
Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the U.S. of encouraging separatism among the Syrian Kurds.
“Washington has actively encouraged and continues to encourage separatist sentiments among Kurds. This is either a lack of understanding of the situation or an absolutely conscious provocation,” he told reporters at a press conference.
The Kurdish political parties in northern Syria have stressed that they want a federal system, not an independent state.
Despite this, Lavrov said that Russia had invited ‘Kurdish representatives’ to the Syrian National Dialogue Congress scheduled to take place in Sochi on January 29 and 30.
Interfax reported Lavrov as saying that the Coalition plan to set up a Syrian border security force comprised partly of veteran SDF fighters was a “blatant interference in Syrian internal affairs.”
On Saturday, the Russian Ministry of Defence said in a statement that it had withdrawn the Russian Military Police in Efrin to Tel Ajar to prevent provocations and threats to the lives of Russian forces.
SDF calls on Russia, Coalition to take a stand
In a press conference Monday afternoon, the Syrian Democratic Forces called on Russia and the Coalition to stand against the Efrin operation.
BREAKING- Statement by #SDF General Command on Turkish attacks against Afrin: “We are calling on Russia & Anti-ISIL-Coalition to take a clear stance against the attacks on #Afrin. We are close to a victory against terrorists and this victory will be demonstrated in Afrin.” (ANHA) pic.twitter.com/gTWpyU5OI4
— Cahida Dêrsim (@dersi4m) January 22, 2018
“We are calling on Russia and [the] anti-ISIL Coalition to take a clear stance against the attacks on Afrin,” the SDF General Command said. “We are close to a victory against terrorists and this victory will be demonstrated in Afrin.”
SDF spokesperson Kino Gabriel said the group was considering sending reinforcements to Efrin.
On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis told reporters on a flight to Asia that Turkey alerted the U.S. about the operation.
“Turkey was candid,” Reuters reported Mattis as saying. “They warned us before they launched the aircraft they were going to do it, in consultation with us.”
“And we are working now on the way ahead. We’ll work this out,” he added.
This story is developing and will be updated.