Deaths mount for Turkish troops in Kurdish offensive

Deaths mount for Turkish troops in Kurdish offensive
Eleven Turkish troops have died in the deadliest day for Ankara in its three week-long offensive against Kurdish militia in Syria's Afrin region.
2 min read
11 February, 2018
Turkish troops began Operation 'Olive Branch' on January 20 [Getty]

Eleven Turkish soldiers were killed on Saturday, including two military personnel when a helicopter was downed, in the bloodiest day in Ankara's offensive against a Kurdish militia in northern Syria.

Turkey is 22 days into a military operation against the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia in the Afrin region, backing Syrian rebels with air strikes and ground troops.

"At this stage, we can say that one out of two helicopters was downed. We have two martyrs," Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said in a televised statement.

The Turkish military later said nine more soldiers were killed in separate incidents but did not give details.

Another 11 soldiers were injured after the offensive's bloodiest day for Turkish military personnel, the army said.

Ankara deems the YPG as a "terrorist" offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency inside Turkey and is blacklisted by Washington and the European Union.

Earlier, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a helicopter had been shot down without saying who was responsible.

"Of course, these kinds of things will happen. We are in a war. We will have losses, but we will cause the other side to have losses as well," he said in a televised speech, vowing to make the perpetrators pay "a much heavier price".

Syria's Afrin [click to enlarge]

Last Saturday, seven Turkish troops died in the second worst single-day loss of the operation so far, with five killed in a tank attack.

Some 1,141 "terrorists" had been neutralised during the operation, Erdogan said, referring to those killed but also those captured or wounded.

It was not immediately possible to verify this figure. 

Yildirim earlier said Turkey had not launched its operation in Afrin to enter into a war or because it had "an eye" on another country's territory.

"Excuse me but no state would ignore a terror organisation growing like a tumour next to it," he said.

"This is a threat to Turkey which Ankara has the natural right to fight under international and domestic law," Yildirim added.

The UN has estimated that 15,000 people have already been displaced in the offensive, and there are fears that a sustained military campaign could spark a "humanitarian tragedy" for civilians living on the Syrian-Turkish border.