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Turkish-backed Forces Overcome Kurdish YPG To Capture Afrin

Turkish forces, backed by mainly Sunni Arab rebels, captured the Kurdish town of Afrin, located in northwest Syria, the culmination of a two-month offensive aimed at expelling from the border region People’s Protection Units, or YPG, that Ankara views as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)—which has waged a three-decades-long insurgency in southeast Turkey aimed at achieving independence. “Most of the terrorists have already fled with tails between their legs,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying, as troops loyal to him tore down a monument in the heart of Afrin commemorating the blacksmith Kawa, a mythical figure for Kurds. The focus now turns to whether Ankara will push deeper into other areas held by the YPG, which makes up the bulk of the U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces that was instrumental in retaking Raqqa from the Islamic State. Should Ankara attempt to seize Manbij, some 60 miles east of Afrin—which is located in Washington’s so-called “sphere of interest” in Syria—it would raise the prospect of a direct confrontation between Turkish and American soldiers. Erdogan launched the incursion, code-named Operation Olive Branch, on January 20 amid reports the U.S. was planning to form a 30,000-strong Kurdish army to protect the Syrian-Turkish frontier. An estimated 1,500 Kurdish fighters and 280 civilians, including dozens of children, were killed in the Afrin campaign, which also displaced hundreds of thousands of people.