Turkey starts ground ops in Syria

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The Turkish military issued a statement saying that the regular forces retaliated for fire from the Kurdish positions in Afrin, north of the main Syrian city Aleppo.

This year had already seen attacks by Turkish forces on Afrin, coming from Turkish posts in the Idlib province and across the border from Turkey, but recent declarations by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and high-level officials warned of a full-scale intervention soon.

Explosions heard from Afrin after Turkish jets cross Turkey-Syria border, reported Anadolu.

The Turkish defense minister announced that the army has begun bombarding Kurdish-held regions along the Syrian border as Ankara looks to destroy a USA -backed border force made up largely of Kurdish militias.

Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar held a phone call with U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford prior to the counter-terror operation, the military announced Saturday.

"We. have been quite consistent in our messaging to the highest levels of the Turkish government", a senior State Department official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, said Friday.

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"We are united and we want to support our people in Afrin", said Abdallah Khaled, a 40-year-old protester to AFP, in the northeastern province of Hassakeh.

Friday's discussion hosted by New America took place as Turkish and Kurdish news agencies reported that the Ankara-backed FSA had deployed fighters on Thursday night to the Azaz area in northern Syria in preparation for an offensive against neighboring Afrin.

As the so-called Syrian revolution started in 2012, Kurdish political parties and milities held control of great parts in northern Syria and declared their autonomy from the central government.

The Russian Defense Ministry, meanwhile, said in a statement that it was withdrawing its troops from the area in order "to prevent potential provocation and exclude the threat to the life and well-being of Russian military". Turkey was hit several times by ISIL terrorist attacks, and the YPG has been the only effective land-based military against ISIL.

Turkey considers Syria's Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the YPG, "terrorist groups" with ties to the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long fight inside Turkey. Some of their animus against the YPG comes from its having also fought Turkey-backed Arab Muslim guerrillas of a Muslim fundamentalist bent in Syria.

"There is a picture of diverging interests of Turkey and Russia", said Kerim Has, a lecturer in Turkish-Russian relations at Moscow University.

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