Turkish troops shell Afrin to oust US-backed 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

Syria will shoot down any Turkish aircraft that violates its airspace to conduct attacks on Syrian territory, Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Miqdad said on Thursday.

Washington said it is training a 30,000-strong border force on Syria's northern frontier with Turkey, comprised of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia, whom Ankara accuses of being a terror group.

Turkey's military plans seem to have been accelerated by an announcement from the U.S. that it will help the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) - an alliance against IS of which the YPG is a member - build a new "border security force" to prevent the return of IS.

"The Syrian Air Force has regained its full strength and is ready to destroy any Turkish military targets that enter the skies of the Syrian Arab Republic".

Turkey will not hesitate to start military operations in Syria's Afrin city and kill all terrorists there, Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli said on January 19.

Turkey's president has warned of imminent military offensives on two Kurdish-held areas in northern Syria, as tanks and troops mass on the border. The day before, the operation de facto started.

The statement said the operation will also take sensitivity into account and no civilian/innocent person would be harmed.

The operation is likely to escalate tensions between the USA and Turkey, which has accused Washington of overarming Kurdish forces and encouraging separatist aspirations.

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Seven entry points have been identified into the town, Habertürk said, and Turkey's border walls had been removed at twelve points to allow the operation to proceed without obstacle.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry statement was a response to a speech by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday in which he signaled that U.S. forces would stay in parts of Syria indefinitely.

Turkey has vowed to launch a ground operation into Afrin to eradicate YPG forces there.

Ankara views the YPG as associated with the illegal Kurdistan Workers' Party, a decades-old insurgency in the country's southeast.

"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.

The president has also declared on multiple occasions that he will not tolerate a "terror corridor" along the southern Turkish border. "We don't want them to engage in violence but we want them to keep focused on Isis [Islamic State]".

With conspicuous timing, Turkey's army chief General Hulusi Akar and spy chief Hakan Fidan were in Moscow on Thursday for talks with Russian counterparts on Syria.

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