Turkey has begun 'de-facto ground operation' in Afrin, says Erdogan

Turkish-backed fighters from the Free Syrian Army stand in the Tal Malid area north of Aleppo as they fire towards Kurdish People's Protection Units positions in the village of Um al-Hosh in the area of Afrin

Russian Federation has based military observers in Afrin since 2015, and the subject of their removal was part of negotiations between Turkey and Russian Federation yesterday over what the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said was a matter of national security. "No, it did not", he told CNN-Turk television in an interview. It was the USA -led coalition's chief ally in the war against the Islamic State in Syria.

The announcement of a border force infuriated Turkey's leaders, and Erdogan has accused the United States, its most powerful North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally, of "building an army of terror" on his border and threatened to "drown" the US-backed force.

The U.S. has developed close ties with the Kurdish militia over the shared fight against the Islamic State, and it keeps bases in northeast Syria with the Kurds.

"The U.S. must eliminate the confusion and change its stance in favor of peace and improving relations with Turkey", he said during an address to police chiefs.

USA engagement would also help to diminish Iranian influence in Syria, he said.

Earlier Wednesday in California, Tillerson explained why the US intends to prolong its military presence in Syria to prevent the return of IS and to back up a United Nations-backed political process that Western powers hope will eventually see Syrian President Bashar al-Assad relinquish power.

But some analysts warn USA plans are insufficient to fulfill the aims outlined by Tillerson.

Syria had warned that it was prepared to fire on Turkish warplanes in the event of an attack on Afrin, about 12 miles from Turkey's southern border.

But the US -backed Syrian Democratic Forces - of which the YPG is a major component - accused Turkey on Saturday of using cross-border shelling as a false pretext to launch an offensive in Syria.

Turkey and allied Syrian rebels on Saturday began an air and ground operation, dubbed operation "Olive Branch", aimed at ousting the YPG from the Kurdish-majority pocket.

There have been reports of increased Turkish shelling of Afrin. He said forces will next move on the Syrian town of Manbij, east of Afrin, on the Turkish border.

The attack comes on the heels of a week of sharp threats by the Turkish government, promising to clear the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, from Afrin and its surrounding countryside, also called Afrin.

A lawmaker in Syria's Parliament expressed concern that Turkey was looking to create strife among Syrians by using Arab members of the rebel Free Syrian Army to fight Syrian Kurds.

Turkish warplanes carried out airstrike against Kurdish fighters in Syria on Saturday to open a long-anticipated offensive on Afrin, an enclave for the Kurdish militias backed by the United States. On Thursday morning, it was hit by Turkish artillery strikes. "We are closely monitoring the development of the situation", the statement said.

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