Turkey claims capture of 15 villages on Day 3 of Afrin offensive

Turkish army tanks enter Afrin, an enclave in northern Syria controlled by US-allied Kurdish fighters, in Hassa, Hatay, Turkey, Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. (AP)
Updated 22 January 2018

Turkey claims capture of 15 villages on Day 3 of Afrin offensive

ANKARA: Turkey claimed the capture of 15 Kurdish-held villages on Monday on the third day of Operation Olive Branch aimed at driving out Syrian Kurdish forces of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from their Afrin enclave in northwest Syria.
Turkish artillery shelled YPG targets inside Syria and ground troops opened a new front by moving on Afrin from the town of Azaz to the east.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 21 civilians, six of them children, had been killed in the operation.
Ankara denied causing civilian casualties, and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused the YPG of sending out “nonsense propaganda and baseless lies.”
France called for a UN Security Council meeting on Monday to discuss concerns over flashpoint areas in Syria, including the Turkish offensive. But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey had Russia’s support for the operation and would not back down. “We are determined. Afrin will be sorted out. We will take no step back,” he said in a televised speech in Ankara.
In a sign of the risks to Turkey, 11 rockets fired from Syria hit the Turkish border town of Reyhanli on Sunday, killing one Syrian refugee and wounding 46 people, 16 of them Syrian.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said 170 Kurdish military targets had been destroyed since Saturday and the Turkish army had suffered no losses.
Turkish authorities detained 24 people on Monday accused of posting “terror propaganda” on social media in support of the YPG and against the military operation. Ankara views the YPG and its political wing the PYD (Democratic Union Party) as terrorist groups linked to the outlawed PKK.
NATO Deputy Secretary-General Rose Gottemoeller met Turkish officials in Ankara on Monday and said all countries had the right to self-defense, provided “this is done in a proportionate and measured way.”
Turkey claims to have captured up to 8km of territory in Afrin, and Naim Baburoglu, a military strategist and retired Turkish brigadier general, told Arab News he did not expect the operation to last much longer.
“In each military operation, there should be a political objective which precedes military targets,” he said. “For this one, Turkey wants to neutralize the PYD, to prevent a Kurdish corridor from reaching to the Mediterranean shores and to preserve Syria’s territorial integrity.”
Afrin was merely a tactical operation, he said, while the strategic objective was to eradicate the PYD threat east of the Euphrates, and the offensive was likely to be extended in that direction.
“If not, Turkey’s territorial integrity and border security will still be under threat from the PYD presence in the region in the short to medium term,” Baburoglu said.
Kerim Has, a lecturer in Turkish-Russian relations at Moscow University, warned that if the Turkish army suffered heavy losses in the offensive and sought further Russian military, political and diplomatic support, this would change the whole picture in Syria, Turkey and throughout the region.
“Requests to Russia from Ankara in such a scenario can directly cause a sharp and irrevocable break in Turkey-NATO relations,” he told Arab News.
The US State Department has already asked Turkey to restrict the scope of the operation and “to exercise restraint.” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Turkey had been “candid” and had informed Washington beforehand about its operation.
Sakir Dincsahin, a Middle East expert from Hasan Kalyoncu University in Gaziantep, told Arab News: “Russia’s influence in the region has risen considerably and it has become a real power broker in Syria. So Moscow’s diplomatic support for the operation contributes a lot to its success.”
Washington was losing influence over Turkey because of its close partnership with the YPG and its latest attempt to establish a Kurdish-led border security force, he said.
“And at the same time it will also suffer an enormous image loss as it is currently not in a position to safeguard its local PYD/PKK allies from Turkish attacks.”

Iran faces ‘strongest sanctions in history’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Updated 22 May 2018

Iran faces ‘strongest sanctions in history’

  • US Secretary of State laid out Trump administration’s strategy for constraining Iran’s nuclear program
  • US threatens "strongest sanctions in history" if Iranian government does not change course

WASHINGTON: The US told Iran on Monday to drop its nuclear ambitions and pull out of the Syrian civil war in a list of demands that marked a new hard-line against Tehran and prompted an Iranian official to warn that Washington seeks regime change.

Weeks after US President Donald Trump pulled out of an international nuclear deal with Iran, his administration threatened to impose “the strongest sanctions in history,” setting Washington and Tehran on a deeper course of confrontation.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded sweeping changes that would force Iran effectively to reverse years of its foreign policies.

“The sting of sanctions will only grow more painful if the regime does not change course from the unacceptable and unproductive path it has chosen for itself and the people of Iran,” Pompeo said in his first major speech since becoming secretary of state.

“These will be the strongest sanctions in history by the time we are done,” he added.

Pompeo took aim at Iran’s policy of expanding its influence in the Middle East through support for proxy armed groups in countries such as Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

He warned that the US would “crush” Iranian operatives and allies abroad and told Tehran to pull out forces under its command from the Syrian civil war where they back President Bashar Assad.

Iran is unlikely to accede to the US demands. Tension between the two countries has grown notably since Trump this month withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement aimed at preventing Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Pompeo warned that if Iran fully resumed its nuclear program Washington would be ready to respond and said the administration would hold companies doing prohibited business in Iran to account.

“Our demands on Iran are not unreasonable: Give up your program,” Pompeo said, “Should they choose to go back, should they begin to enrich, we are fully prepared to respond to that as well,” he said, declining to elaborate.

Pompeo said if Iran made major changes, the US was prepared to ease sanctions, re-establish full diplomatic and commercial relations and support the country’s re-integration into the international economic system.

The speech did not explicitly call for regime change but Pompeo repeatedly urged the Iranian people not to put up with their leaders, specifically naming President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

“At the end of the day the Iranian people will get to make a choice about their leadership. If they make the decision quickly, that would be wonderful, if they choose not to do so we will stay hard at this until we achieve the outcomes I set forward,” said Pompeo.