(KOCABEYLI, Turkey) — Turkish jets bombed the Kurdish-controlled city of Afrin in northern Syria on Saturday, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to expand Turkey’s military border operations against a Kurdish group that has been the U.S.’s key Syria ally in the war on the Islamic State group.
The warplanes attacked Afrin shortly before sunset, Turkish media reported. A Kurdish official confirmed the strikes saying they were the first by the Turkish military on the city, in what it has named operation “Olive Branch.”
The attack comes on the heels of a week of sharp threats by the Turkish government, promising to clear the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, from Afrin and its surrounding countryside, also called Afrin.
Turkey says the YPG — a group it considers a terrorist organization — is an extension of an outlawed Kurdish rebel group that it is fighting inside its own borders. It has recruited to its cause thousands of disaffected Syrian opposition fighters, who view the YPG as a counter-revolutionary force in Syria’s multi-sided civil war.
Associated Press journalists at the Turkish border saw a convoy of buses, believed to be carrying Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters, traveling along the border across from Afrin. The convoy included at least four trucks carrying pickup trucks mounted with machine guns. Video from Turkey this week showed the military moving tanks to the border.
The YPG is the driving force behind a coalition of north Syrian forces allied with the U.S. to battle the Islamic State group. With U.S. support, including close to 2,000 embedded forces, the coalition now controls close to a quarter of Syrian territory, concentrated mostly in the north east.
Turkish leaders were infuriated by an announcement by the U.S. military announced one week ago that it was going to create a 30,000-strong border force with the Kurdish fighters to secure northern Syria. Days later, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced…