Turkish military takes control of Afrin town center

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Turkish soldier hoists Turkish flag in Afrin town center after Turkish Armed Forces and Free Syrian Army (FSA) took complete control of northwestern Syria's Afrin within the "Operation Olive Branch" on March 18, 2018. Troops entered the town center from east, west and north sides. / Hisam el Homsi / Anadolu Agency

The Turkish military said on Sunday it had taken complete control of the Afrin town center in northwestern Syria, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

“The Afrin town center was taken under control by the Turkish Armed Forces and the Free Syrian Army,” the General Staff announced on Twitter.

A search for mines and improvised explosive devices is under way, it added.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had earlier announced that Turkish-backed forces took complete control of the town center at 8:30 a.m. local time.

The General Staff also posted a video on Twitter titled “The first pictures from Afrin” featuring a Turkish soldier waving a national flag and saying, “This is a gift for those who were martyred on March 18.”

The 103rd anniversary of March 18, 1915, is marked as a national day in Turkey, known as “Çanakkale Victory and Martyrs’ Day.”

The Turkish military and Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters on Jan. 20 launched Operation Olive Branch in the Afrin region of Syria against the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Turkey sees as the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

According to the General Staff, the operation aims to establish security and stability along Turkey’s borders and the region as well as protect Syrians from terrorist cruelty and oppression.

The operation is being carried out under the framework of Turkey’s rights based on international law, UN Security Council resolutions, its self-defense rights under the UN charter and respect for Syria’s territorial integrity, it claimed.

The military has also said that only terrorist targets are being destroyed and “utmost care” is being taken to avoid harming any civilians.

Afrin has been a major hideout for the PYD since July 2012, when the Assad regime in Syria left the city to the terror group without a fight.

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