Turkey prepares for urban warfare in Afrin

A convoy of civilian and fighters coming from Kurdish territories in northeastern Syria and headed to Afrin was targeted by shelling from Turkish forces and pro-Turkish Syrian rebels on Thursday. (AFP)
Updated 24 February 2018
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Turkey prepares for urban warfare in Afrin

ANKARA: Turkey has despatched high-tech weaponry, designed for urban warfare, to Syria amid growing fears of an operation into the center of Afrin.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said this week that the Turkish army is set to lay siege to the northern city after his forces launched an operation last month against Syrian Kurdish militias.
The offensive has sparked tensions between various factions in the complex Syrian civil war. The Kurdish militants have called in support from pro-government forces, while Operation Olive Branch has heightened tensions with the US, which supports the Kurds. Turkey supports sections of the Syrian opposition rebels.
Turkish media reported that about 20 remote-controlled vehicles, mounted with sophisticated weaponry, were on their way to the Turkish forces in Afrin.
Hundreds of special operations soldiers have also been deployed to Afrin along with “volunteer village guards” — militias from predominantly Kurdish areas of Turkey, set up as a defense against attacks from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The PKK is linked to the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey is fighting in Afrin. Ankara views both groups as terrorist organizations, while the US is an ally of the YPG in the war against Daesh.
Involvement by the village guards is designed to avoid tension between Turks and Kurds within Turkey. On Thursday night, Turkish Armed Forces bombed a convoy of between 30-40 YPG vehicles carrying ammunition and weapons. The attack happened about 15 km south-east of Afrin, the military said.
Pro-regime forces, backed by Iranian militia, were reported to have entered Afrin to defend the city earlier this week.
But with Turkey showing its intention to continue the offensive, there is an increasing risk of direct clashes with forces linked to Damascus and Tehran.
Erol Bural, a former military officer and a terrorism expert at the Ankara-based research organization 21st Century Turkey Institute, said Turkey has experience in urban fighting from operations targeting the PKK in cities in south-east Turkey.
“Two years ago the PKK was pushed out of 33 different residential areas,” he told Arab News.
Experts predict the YPG will show the greatest resistance in Afrin city center, which has been heavily reinforced during the Syrian conflict.
“Several bombproof tunnels, and the watchtowers built by the YPG against aerial and ground operations, were revealed during Turkey’s ongoing Afrin offensive,” Bural said. “We will probably see the same in the city center, along with widespread sniper positions hidden between the houses and alleys, as well as the use of improvised explosive devices.”
Naim Baburoglu, a security analyst from Istanbul Aydin University, said he would expect the operation to reach Afrin city center to be speeded up, after critical zones surrounding the city have been captured.


Iran video threatens missile strikes on UAE, Saudi Arabia

Updated 30 min 20 sec ago
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Iran video threatens missile strikes on UAE, Saudi Arabia

TEHRAN: An Iranian media outlet close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) published a video on Tuesday threatening the capitals of Saudi Arabia and the UAE with missile attacks.
The video tweeted and later deleted by the semi-official Fars news agency comes as Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed Riyadh and Abu Dhabi for an attack on a military parade in the city of Ahvaz on Saturday.
The video shows file footage of previous ballistic missile attacks launched by the Guard, then a graphic of a sniper rifle scope homing in on Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. The video also threatened Israel.
"The era of the hit-and-run has expired," Khamenei's voice is heard in the video, the segment taken from an April speech by the supreme leader. "A heavy punishment is underway."
Iran has fired its ballistic missiles twice in anger in recent years. In 2017, responding to an Daesh attack on Tehran, the IRGC fired missiles striking targets in Syria. Then, earlier this month, it launched a strike on a meeting of Iranian Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq.
The IRGC, a paramilitary force answerable only to Khamenei, has sole control over Iran's ballistic missile program.
Under Khamenei's orders, Iran now limits its ballistic missiles to a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles), which gives Tehran the range to strike Israel, Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as regional American military bases.
Saturday's attack targeted one of many parades in Iran marking the start of the country's long 1980s war with Iraq, part of a commemoration known as "Sacred Defense Week." Militants disguised as soldiers opened fire as rows of troops marched past officials in Ahvaz.
Arab separatists in the region claimed the attack and Iranian officials have blamed them for the assault. The separatists accuse Iran's government of discriminating against its ethnic Arab minority. Iran's Khuzestan province, where Ahvaz is the provincial capital, also has seen recent protests over Iran's nationwide drought, as well as economic protests.
Daesh also claimed Saturday's attack, initially offering incorrect information about it and later publishing a video of three men it identified as the attackers. The men in the video, however, did not pledge allegiance or otherwise identify themselves as Daesh followers.
Iranian state TV reported that authorities have detained 22 people linked to the group behind the attack and confiscated ammunition and communication equipment. Fars also reported that five militants took part in the assault, all of whom were killed. It said two of them were brothers and another one was their cousin.
On Monday, the IRGC's acting commander, Gen. Hossein Salami, vowed revenge against the perpetrators and what he called the "triangle" of Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States.
"You are responsible for these actions; you will face the repercussions," the general said. "We warn all of those behind the story, we will take revenge."
Khamenei said Monday that the attack showed Iran has "a lot of enemies." He linked the attackers to the United States, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
"Definitely, we will harshly punish the operatives" behind the terror attack, he said.