Turkey’s military and its rebel allies have besieged the northern Syrian town of Afrin and were nearing its town center, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday, in what would mark a major advance in Turkey’s military operation.
Turkey launched its operation, dubbed “Olive Branch”, in northern Syria nearly seven weeks ago to sweep the Syrian Kurdish YPG from the Turkish border. Turkey sees the YPG as a terrorist group and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
On Thursday, Turkish forces and their Free Syrian Army (FSA) allies seized control of the nearby town of Jinderes, state media reported. Turkey now controls five out of seven of the settlements in the northwest Afrin region, state media said.
“Now the center of Afrin is surrounded and our entry is imminent,” Erdogan said in televised speech in Ankara.
“We are removing the last remaining obstacles standing before our besieging of Afrin city center,” he said, adding there was still about six kilometers (3.7 miles) to go to reach Afrin from the outskirts of Jinderes.
Later on Friday, a spokesman for the YPG denied that the Afrin town had been besieged, and said several of the regions Turkey has claimed to have taken control of were still battlegrounds.
“The forces of Erdogan’s Turkish army … are 10 to 15 km away from it (Afrin),” YPG spokesman Nouri Mahmoud said. “Today, there were also clashes around Bulbul, where they announced around 30 days ago that they captured, occupied it.”