The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces have encircled the Afrin town center as of March 12 as part of the preparations for a final offensive to completely root out the PKK-affiliated groups from the town. A corridor was kept open for civilians to flee.
The advance of Operation Olive Branch forces continues in the villages surrounding Afrin's center and northwestern part of the city. A TSK statement released Tuesday said the city center is surrounded, but safe passage for civilians is still allowed on the southeastern part. Turkish special forces arrived in Afrin earlier this month and are expected to take an active role in the fight within the city.
Five more villages, Ma'sar Juqq, Qarah Bash, Kafr Dali at-Tahtani, Magharjuq and Darmashkanli, were also liberated Tuesday. The military noted that documents with critical value have been confiscated in the area.
The number of PKK-affiliated People's Protection Forces (YPG) terrorists "neutralized" has risen to 3,393 since the beginning of Operation Olive Branch in Syria's Afrin, the military also announced Tuesday.
The Turkish military uses the term "neutralized" in reference to terrorists captured dead or alive, or those who surrender during the operations. However, the term is usually used for the terrorists who have been killed in the operations.
Mines and explosives planted by the PKK-affiliated YPG also continue to be cleared by the TSK and the FSA in order to provide security for locals and a convenient environment to those who previously fled the YPG's oppressive policies.
While some civilians have moved to the region previously liberated during Operation Euphrates Shield, others reportedly continue to move toward Manbij, state-run TRT Haber said Monday. The defensive lines and concentration centers of the People's Protection Units YPG are mostly located in the Afrin city center.
The town of Afrin, 90 villages and a nearby town under YPG control have been encircled, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed on Tuesday. Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman said the only road out of the area was in range of Turkish fire, and was therefore impassable, noting that 700,000 people are living in the encircled area.
There are more than 350,000 people in Afrin town center itself, Abdulrahman added. The town's pre-war population was around 50,000 people but swelled during the 7-yearlong Syrian civil war since 2011.
As Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20 to remove the PKK/PYD/YPG/KCK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin in northwestern Syria, additional people have arrived in the town center to seek refuge from clashes in the countryside.
YPG/PKK also forced local people into Afrin in order to use them as human shields against Turkish air and artillery strikes. As Turkish and FSA forces encircled the town, the terrorist group is trying to prevent civilians from leaving Afrin in order to slow down the Turkish advance.
In addition, Anadolu Agency (AA) footage Tuesday showed the YPG stopping locals who wanted to go to areas under the control of the opposition or the regime. The U.N. recently drew attention to the issue, saying local authorities continue to block the exodus of civilians from Afrin, ostensibly referring to the YPG.
According to the Turkish General Staff, the operation aims to establish security and stability along Turkish borders and in the region as well as to protect Syrian people from the oppression and cruelty of terrorists.
The operation is being carried out under the framework of Turkey's rights within international law, U.N. Security Council resolutions, its right to self-defense under the U.N. charter and respect for Syria's territorial integrity, it said.
The military also said, "utmost importance" is being placed on not harming any civilians.
The operation in Afrin – bordering Turkey's Hatay and Kilis provinces – was widely expected in the wake of Turkey's Operation Euphrates Shield in northern Syria, which cleared Daesh terrorists from Turkey's border between Aug. 24, 2016, and March 2017.
Afrin has been a major hideout for the YPG/PKK since July 2012 when the Assad regime in Syria left the city to the terror group without putting up a fight.