US urges Turkey to 'exercise restraint' in Afrin operation

US urges Turkey to 'exercise restraint' in Afrin operation
Turkey on Saturday launched 'Operation Olive Branch' seeking to oust the Peoples' Protection Units (YPG) from the Afrin region of northern Syria.
3 min read
21 January, 2018
Turkish troops crossed into the YPG-controlled Afrin region in Syria on Sunday. [Getty]

Washington called on Sunday for its NATO ally Turkey to "exercise restraint" and avoid civilian casualties in its cross-border operation targeting Syrian Kurdish forces around the town of Afrin.

Turkey on Saturday launched "Operation Olive Branch" seeking to oust Kurdish fighters of the Peoples' Protection Units (YPG) from the Afrin region of northern Syria, which Ankara considers a terror group.

Turkish troops and tanks entered Syria on Sunday to push an offensive against the Kurdish militia.

The campaign risks further increasing tensions with Turkey's NATO ally the United States - which has supported the YPG in the fight against the Islamic State group - and also needs at least the tacit support of Russia to succeed.

"We urge Turkey to exercise restraint and ensure that its military operations remain limited in scope and duration and scrupulous to avoid civilian casualties," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

France's defence minister said Turkey's military operation risked harming the campaign to crush IS, as Paris called for an urgent UN Security Council meeting to discuss the fighting.

Civilian casualties mount

Thirty-two Turkish planes destroyed a total of 45 targets - including ammunition dumps and refuges used by the YPG on the second day of the operation, the Turkish army claimed.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a spokesman for the Kurdish forces that control the area said eight civilians were killed on Sunday in Turkish air raids in Afrin.

"Eight civilians were killed in missile strikes on a chicken farm where they were living," said Birusk Hasakeh, a spokesman for the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) in Afrin, blaming Turkish warplanes.

In pictures sent by Hasakeh to AFP, Kurdish Red Crescent rescuers could be seen retrieving bloodied bodies from a collapsed concrete structure and laying them on orange stretchers.

On Saturday, Hasakeh told AFP that Turkish bombardment had killed 10 people, including seven civilians. 

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Sunday that claims of civilian casualties from the offensive were untrue.  

In Turkey, one Syrian refugee was killed and 32 people injured on Sunday in a rocket attack on a Turkish town close to the Syrian border, a local official said.

Two of those hurt were badly injured, Huseyin Sanverdi, the mayor of Reyhanli, a small town situated in Hatay province on the Syrian border, told NTV television. Earlier, several rockets hit the Turkish border town of Kilis without causing fatalities. 

The Dogan news agency said that three rockets had hit the centre of Reyhanli, damaging buildings and parked vehicles.

Cavusoglu said on Twitter that this "terrorist attack" against civilians in Reyhanli had shown the "true face" of the YPG.