The Turkish army has shelled Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) positions in Tel Rifaat in northern Syria twice over the past day, state-run Anadolu news agency (AA) reported on Thursday.
Turkish troops deployed in the Operation Euphrates Shield area fired artillery at the US-backed YPG militia based in two villages in the Tel Rifaat district, to the southeast of Afrin.
Though it was originally a predominantly Arab district, Tel Rifaat has been occupied by the YPG for the last three years as part of a strategy to reunite the Afrin pocket with the YPG-held territory to the east of the Euphrates with a view to establishing a belt of dominance stretching all along the Turkish-Syrian border, AA claimed.
In 2016, Turkey had launched with the support of Syrian rebel groups Operation Euphrates Shield, aimed at pre-empting an eventual linkup of YPG forces by capturing the district of Al Bab.
On Jan.11 Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar had vowed an offensive against the YPG during an unannounced visit to inspect troops stationed near the Syrian border directly opposite territory held by the YPG, Reuters had reported.
“When the time comes, the terrorists here will be buried in the ditches they have dug, as was done in previous operations,” Akar said in a speech to military personnel at a brigade command center in the region, referring to two cross-border campaigns that Turkey has carried out in Syria.
Turkey and the US are deeply divided over the implementation of US President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw about 2,000 troops deployed in Syria. The plan hinges on Turkish cooperation to secure a swathe of northeast Syria as the Americans depart.
While the pullout has been clouded by mixed messages from both Trump and his administration, US forces have begun the process of withdrawing.
Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey’s largely Kurdish Southeast.