Turkey starts ground offensive against Kurdish forces in Afrin
Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Saturday the start of ground operations against a Kurdish militia in the Syrian town of Afrin.
"The Afrin operation has de-facto been started on the ground," Erdogan said in a televised speech in the city of Kutahya, without elaborating.
Turkish troops and allied Syrian rebels have built up their forces around Afrin, ahead of an expected assault on the town.
Afrin is held by the People's Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish militia force that Ankara claims is allied to the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey.
Ankara launched a series of strikes on YPG positions in Afrin on Friday night and early Saturday, as Turkish diplomats and generals attempted to win the support of Russia and the West for the campaign.
Erdogan then warned that another contested Syrian town, Manbij - further to the east - would be the next target of Ankara's forces.
"This will be followed by Manbij," he added. "The promises made to us over Manbij were not kept. So nobody can object if we do what is necessary."
Erdogan has warned that it would not allow the YPG to establish a "terror corridor" between Kurdish territories in Syria.
The main YPG-occupied territories lie in northern and eastern Syria and the second around the Afrin enclave closer to the coast.
Ankara claims it struck a deal with Washington - which is allied to the YPG - to halt a planned attack on Manbij in return for Kurdish fighters leaving Afrin.
Turkish forces have over the last two days shelled YPG targets around Afrin and also mobilised Free Syrian Army fighters ready for the offensive.
"Later we will, step by step, clear our country up to the Iraqi border from this terror filth that is trying to besiege our country."
The YPG has been the key ground component in the fight against Islamic State group in Syria. It took control of a huge areas of Syria during the fight against the jihadists.
US and allied forces have provided the YPG with air support, arms and military advisers, which saw IS dislodged from the group’s self-declared "capital" Raqqa.
Ankara is wary of the presence of Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, who they fear will link up with the PKK and could be used to attack Turkish forces.
Syrians have also complained of Kurdish forces attacking and discriminating against Arab civilians in areas under its occupation.
Agencies contributed to this story.