Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Sunday that Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel fighter allies have seized control of the town center of Afrin from Kurdish YPG fighters.
Erdogan said Turkish soldiers, along with rebel factions of the Free Syrian Army, took complete control of Afrin town center at 8.30 a.m.
He said mopping operations are underway and the Turkish flag has been raised in the town that sits less than 50 kilometers from the Turkish border.
The President, speaking in Canakkale, made the announcement even as opposition forces in Afrin remained defiant.
“Most of the terrorists fled already,” Erdogan said. “Our special forces and Free Syrian Army are clearing the remaining few terrorists and the mines that they might have left. In the center of Afrin, the symbols of peace and security are flying, not the rags of a terror organization. Now the Turkish flag is flying there. The FSA flag is flying there.”
Turkey launched its military offensive against US-backed Kurdish YPG militia in Afrin on January 20, supported by FSA rebel factions.
Ankara says the YPG is an extension of the PKK, a marxist Kurdish militant group that has been waging an insurgency in southeast Turkey since the 1980s.
Brusk Haseke, a spokesman for the YPG in Afrin, said the Kurdish group would continue to fight Turkish troops.
“We will continue to fight until there is not one Turkish soldier left on the land of Afrin, and this war will not be easy and will last for a long time,” he told a news conference Sunday.
The Syrian Democratic Force, which joined the YPG in its fight against Turkish forces and the Free Syrian Army in Afrin, also vowed to press on.
“Our war against the Turkish occupation and the forces of Takfirism, the so-called Free Army, has entered a new stage, which is the transition from the direct confrontation war to hit-and-run tactic to avoid more civilians getting killed,” Othman Sheikh Issa, co-chairman of the Afrin Executive Council, said in a televised statement Sunday.
More than 150,000 people have been displaced in the last few days from Afrin town, a senior Kurdish official and a monitoring group said Saturday.