Turkish ground troops and pro-Turkish rebels from the Free Syrian Army have crossed into northern Syria to clear Kurdish militia from the Syrian province of Afrin.
Turkey says the YPG militia, which forms part of the US-backed alliance battling Islamic State in the region, is aligned with the banned Kurdish Workers Party (PKK).
The troop movement followed dozens of Turkish air strikes on Saturday. The operation, named “Olive Branch”, was reportedly fast-tracked after the US announced plans to help Kurdish and ethnic Arab militias to build a new “border security force” between Syria and Turkey.
Turkey reportedly informed the US in advance of the air strikes, which have so far claimed the lives of at least 17 civilians and three YPG fighters, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told the BBC.
“Our jets took off and started bombing and now the ground operation is underway,” Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said. “Now we see how the YPG ... are fleeing in Afrin.”
Reuters reports that around 25,000 Free Syrian Army rebels are taking part in the operation, citing rebel commander Major Yasser Abdul Rahim. He explained that his forces had were not seeking to invade the city of Afrin, but would attempt to “encircle it and expel the YPG, which controls it”.
The US, France and Russia have called for restraint from Turkey, and for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the situation.
Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war, is widely expected to demand a halt to the Turkish operation later today.