ANKARA, June 30 (Xinhua) — Turkish Armed Forces bolsters its military deployment near Afrin town in northern Syria as the region is getting heated with exchange of fire between Turkish military and Syrian Kurds who control the Kurdish enclave across Turkey’s border.
“Afrin needs to be cleared of terrorists with regard to both Turkey’s security and the region’s security. Turkey is continuing to work with its counterparts to achieve this end,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak said on Wednesday.
“Otherwise nobody can guarantee the security of Azaz, Mare, al-Bab and Idlib. Turkey’s diplomatic efforts are continuing to this end,” Kaynak noted.
Tension between Turkey and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) group has escalated around Afrin in recent months as Turkish army turns up the heat on the group both from within Syria but also through sustained shelling from the Turkish side of the border.
Turkey increases pressure on the Syrian Kurds as they began to expand the eastern control area to Azaz and Tell Rifaat in the east of Afrin.
Turkish forces have crossed the Syrian border and were headed toward the rebel-held border town of Azaz, roughly 20 km northeast of Afrin, Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said last week. The army also reportedly deployed new 400-kilometer range artillery units in the region.
Turkish military retaliated with an artillery fire on late Tuesday and destroyed YPG militia targets after the group’s machine-gun fire targeted Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) elements in the Maranaz area south of the town of Azaz in northern Syria, Turkish armed forces said. Azaz town is one of the main military hubs of Turkish army in northern Syria.
Elaborating on the reinforcement of military troops in the region, Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin last week said the Turkish government was taking “necessary security measures because Turkey is fighting against the PKK and the Islamic State (IS) on border regions.”
He also revealed that Turkey and Russia could jointly deploy soldiers to Idlib province, as monitoring forces for de-escalation zones in Syria.
The deployment of Turkish troops in Idlib will likely put pressure on Afrin, the mainly Kurdish enclave.
Turkish army along with the Free Syrian Army took control of Azaz, Mare and al-Bab in Syria and liberated around 2,000 square km from the IS jihadists through the Euphrates Shield Operation launched in August 2015.
The operation was not only aiming to dislodge the IS from the region, but also containing the Syrian Kurds.
Turkey wanted to secure a large foothold in northwest Syria to stop the YPG connecting their cantons and creating a de facto Kurdish mini-state along its frontier.
Afrin is the westernmost of three cantons of Rojava, proclaimed by the Kurds in the north of Syria.
Syrian Kurds suggest that Turkey aims to take control of Tell Rifaat town in order to hamper plans by Syrian Kurds to link Afrin and Kobane cantons in northern Syria.
Tell Rifaat is the closest spot to Manbij region south of Kobane canton, which has been under the control of the YPG group.
In March, Russia deployed ground forces to Afrin after Turkey staged attacks at the YPG targets in isolated northwestern Syrian town.
The YPG group is also allied to the United States in the fight against IS and plays a key role in the U.S.-backed offensive against jihadist group’s urban stronghold of Raqqa.