Turkey’s Syria offensive enters 2nd month with slow progress

Turkish-backed Syrian rebel fighters are seen in the town of Salwah, less than 10 kilometres from the Syria-Turkey border on February 19, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 20 February 2018
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Turkey’s Syria offensive enters 2nd month with slow progress

ANKARA: Turkey’s offensive against a Kurdish militia in northern Syria will enter a second month Tuesday having made little progress while straining relations with Washington and The European Union.
Ankara on January 20 launched a cross-border air and ground operation against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) supporting Syrian rebels in the Afrin region.
Turkey views the YPG as a Syrian offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
Although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly hailed the operation’s success, analysts argue Ankara’s forces have made slow progress.
The Turkish army has said 32 Turkish military personnel have been killed in the process.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor, Syrian rebels and Turkish forces have taken 35 villages since the start of the operation, but most border Afrin.
Meanwhile, Turkish security expert Abdullah Agar said the “Olive Branch” operation forces captured around 300 square kilometers (120 square miles) of territory.
Since the operation began, the Observatory said 238 Olive Branch fighters (including Turkish soldiers) and 197 YPG fighters have been killed along with 94 civilians.
Ankara strongly denies that there have been civilian casualties, saying its armed forces are showing utmost care not to harm civilians.

Kurdish YPG forces

Jana Jabbour, professor of Political Science at Sciences Po university in Paris, said the Turks were “struggling to move forward” because of the “organization of the Kurdish YPG forces and their combativeness.”
She added it was important to distinguish between the political rhetoric, “even political propaganda,” and the reality on the ground.
On the ground, Turkish fighting was now focused around the area of Arab Wiran in northeast Afrin, the UK-based Observatory said.
If this is captured, pro-Ankara forces would control 50 continuous kilometers (31 miles) on Afrin’s northern border with Turkey.
The operation is likely to be further complicated after the Syrian state news agency SANA on Monday said pro-government forces were expected to enter Afrin to counter the Turkish offensive.
In response, Erdogan told Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in a phone call there would be “consequences” if the regime entered the region, according to Turkish media.
Jabbour said she doubted the regime would move into Afrin because “behind the scenes Turkish forces and Syrian forces are talking to each other,” adding Russia would not allow the regime to enter direct confrontation with Turkey.
Turkey views the YPG as a terrorist offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), blacklisted by Ankara, the United States and the European Union.


Kosovan women returned from Syria face house arrest

Updated 24 April 2019
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Kosovan women returned from Syria face house arrest

  • Four alleged militants, all men, were arrested the moment they were brought to the country
  • The state prosecution said all 32 repatriated women are under investigation

PRISTINA: Kosovo prosecutors have requested the house arrest of 16 women repatriated from Syria, saying they are suspected of joining or taking part as foreign fighters there.

The women appeared on Wednesday in court in Pristina, a day after 10 other women were put under house arrest. None have been charged with a crime.

Four alleged militants, all men, were arrested the moment they were brought to the country.

The women and children were sent to the Foreign Detention Centre in the outskirts of Pristina but were freed to go home after 72 hours.

Ten women were seen entering Pristina Basic Court in a police escort on Tuesday. The court said in a statement later that they had been placed under house arrest on charges of joining foreign armed groups and terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq from 2014 to 2019.

The state prosecution said all 32 repatriated women are under investigation and more of them are expected to appear in front of judges on Wednesday. The prosecution has yet to file charges.

After the collapse of Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq, countries around the world are wrestling with how to handle militants and their families seeking to return to their home countries.

Kosovo's population is nominally 90 percent Muslim, but the country is largely secular in outlook. More than 300 of its citizens travelled to Syria since 2012 and 70 men who fought alongside militant groups were killed.

Police said 30 Kosovan fighters, 49 women and eight children remain in the conflict zones. The government said it plans to bring back those who are still there.

International and local security agencies have previously warned of the risk posed by returning fighters. In 2015, Kosovo adopted a law making fighting in foreign conflicts punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

On Saturday, 110 Kosovar citizens — the four alleged foreign fighters, 32 women and 74 children — were returned to Kosovo with assistance from the United States, the first such move for a European country.

Authorities say there are still 87 Kosovar citizens in Syria.