Turkish tanks roll into Syria to fight Kurdish militia

Turkey has in recent days sent dozens of military vehicles to the border area with Syria and readied pro Ankara Syria rebels amid repeated threats from top officials that the operation on the town of Afrin was imminent

A Reuters reporter at the Oncupinar gate on the Turkish side of the border with Syria, could hear the boom of outgoing artillery, with one being fired roughly every three minutes.

The United States called Sunday for Turkey to "exercise restraint" and avoid civilian casualties in its cross-border operation targeting Syrian Kurdish forces.

Overnight airstrikes were also launched against US-backed Kurdish forces in the area with Turkish politicians telling reporters they meant to clear the area of all those they consider terrorists in a swift operation.

Turkey considers Syria's Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the YPG, "terrorist groups" with ties to the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long fight inside Turkey.

For months, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has alluded to a planned military operation to remove the YPG from Afrin canton, a Kurdish-majority, de facto autonomous territory in northwestern Aleppo province.

Turkey on Saturday launched a new air and ground operation aimed at ousting the powerful Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) from the Afrin region.

Le Drian spoke to his Turkish counterpart in a telephone call on Sunday morning, his staff said. "As I said, they will run away, (and) together with our soldiers, we will chase them away", he promised.

While the United States supports YPG forces as part of the SDF now battling IS in Syria's eastern desert, the US-led coalition has not intervened so far during the attack on Afrin.

However, the Syrian regime denied the Turkish assertions and called the attacks a "brutal Turkish aggression on Afrin which is an intrinsic part of Syrian land", according to Syrian regime media.

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Warplanes pounded parts of Afrin city and villages nearby, while there were skirmishes with Turkish forces and their rebel allies at the edge of Afrin, a YPG official in the area said.

Turkey has become target of terror attacks on a number of occasions, which resulted in death of many innocent people, he said.

"Turkey's ground forces entered Syria's Afrin at 11:05 on Sunday", the newspaper quoted the prime minister as saying.

Mattis said Turkey's military informed Washington of its air operation in a phone call to high levels of the US military.

The operation, for which Turkey has also rallied almost 10,000 Syrian opposition fighters, could spill into a wider Turkish-Kurdish confrontation inside Turkey.

However, the YPG dismissed Yildirim's claim, saying Turkish troops had tried to enter Afrin, but were forced back.

Turkey has prepared around 10,000 Syrian fighters to storm Afrin, according Rami Abdurrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The ground forces moved in a week after the United States was working to create a new Syrian Border Security Force by backing Syrian Democratic Forces, which include militia from the Kurdish YPG.

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