Operation Olive Branch

Turkish military operation in Afrin
Part of Foreign involvement in the Syrian Civil War and the Turkish involvement in the Syrian Civil War
Operation Olive Branch.svg
     Turkish-backed opposition control     SDF control     Syrian Army control     Syrian Army and SDF controlFor a more detailed, up-to-date, interactive map, see here.
DateMain combat phase:
20 January[a] – 24 March 2018[8]
(2 months and 4 days)
SDF insurgency:[9][10][11]
25 March 2018 – present
(8 months, 2 weeks and 5 days)
 Republic of Turkey
Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (TFSA)[1]
Other rebel factions[2]
Democratic Federation of Northern Syria
Syrian Arab Republic (20 Feb. – 21 March)[3][4]
Sinjar Alliance[5]
International Freedom Battalion (IFB)[6]
Supported by:
Iran Iran[7] (alleged)
Commanders and leaders

Turkey Lt. Gen. İsmail Metin Temel[16]
(Operations chief commander)
Lt. Col. Muhammad Hamadin[17]
(Third Legion and Levant Front commander)

Syrian opposition Col. Ahmed Othman[18]
(Sultan Murad Division top commander)
Syrian opposition Fehim Isa[19]
(Second Corps and Sultan Murad Division commander)
Syrian opposition Ebubekir Seyf[20]
(Hamza Division top commander)
Abu Muslim[21]
(Levant Front commander)
Maj. Yasser Abdul Rahim[21]
(Sham Legion commander, until 7 February[22])
Lt. Wael al-Mousa [23]
(First Legion commander)
Ahmad Fayyadh al-Khalaf [24]
(Samarkand Brigade field commander)

Bahjt Abedo[25]
(Afrin Region defense minister)[26]
Mehmud Berxwedan[27]
(YPG and SDF Afrin commander)

Qehreman Cudî [28]
(YPG and SDF Afrin commander)
Tokshin Botan [29]
(YPJ commander)
Zilan Judy [29]
(YPJ commander)
Haji Ahmed[30]
(Army of Revolutionaries commander)
Abu Omar al-Idlibi[31]
(Northern Democratic Brigade commander)
Viyan İsyan[32]
(MLKP commander)
Ibrahim Maktabi
(NDF commander)[33]
Mohamed al Faraj
(NDF commander)[34]
Muthanna Nasser [35]
(NDF commander)
Units involved
See order of battleSee order of battle

Turkey 6,400[36]

8,000–10,000 (late January)[48]
20,000 (late February)[49]
Casualties and losses

Per SOHR:[51]
594 killed
Turkey 83 killed

Per SDF:
Turkey 2,541 killed[52]

Per Turkey:
318 killed (as of 27 March)[53]

Turkey 54 soldiers and 1 civilian worker killed, 236 soldiers wounded[54][55]

Per SOHR:[51]
1,582 killed
91 killed

Per SDF:
820 killed[56]
62 killed[57]

Per Turkey:

4,585 killed, wounded or captured[58]

380–500 civilians killed in Syria
(per SOHR & SDF)[b][51][56]
7–9 civilians killed in Turkey[59][60] (2 Syrians)[61]

150,000–300,000 civilians internally displaced[62][63][64]

a The TAF announced the start of Operation Olive Branch on 20 January,[65] while the Turkish Defence Minister stated it "de facto started with cross-border shelling" the day before[66] when one additional SDF fighter was killed.[67]

b Denied by Turkey,[68] but confirmed by Turkey's pro-Kurdish HDP.[69]

On 20 January 2018, the Turkish Armed Forces and allied Syrian Arab and Turkmen militias attacked the majority-Kurdish Afrin District of northwest Syria. The hostilities are usually referred to as "Operation Olive Branch" by Turkish sources[70] and the "Afrin Resistance" by Kurdish sources.[71] The air war and use of major artillery ended as Arab and Turkmen militias entered the city of Afrin on 18 March 2018, and the insurgency phase began.

By March, the United Nations had counted 167,000 refugees in nearby camps;[72] the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights later estimated that a total of 300,000 Kurdish people had been expelled.[73] In the aftermath of the conflict, Turkish forces implemented a resettlement policy by moving refugees from Eastern Ghouta into the newly-empty homes.[74] Many houses, farms, and other private property belonging to those that fled the conflict have been seized or looted.[75]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has stated that the operation in Afrin would be followed by a push to the town of Manbij,[76] which the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) captured from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in 2016.[48] A U.S. general said they would "respond aggressively" if attacked.[77] The YPG announced that it would protect the people of Afrin and respond to the Turkish Army.[78] Between 385 and 510 civilians have been reported killed since the operation started.[51][56][60] Other war crime allegations include the mutilation of a female corpse by Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (TFSA) fighters,[79] the killing of civilians due to indiscriminate shelling by Turkish forces,[80] the use of chemical gas by the Turkish Army,[81] and the indiscriminate shooting of refugees fleeing from the conflict area into Turkey by Turkish border guards.[82]

Erdoğan has threatened that there will be a "heavy price" for Turkish citizens who have protested against the military offensive,[83][84] and the Turkish government has issued restrictions on press coverage, with Reporters Without Borders noting that the Turkish press was expected to be in "service of the government and its war goals".[85] Hundreds of individuals have been detained for demonstrating against the operation.[86] Over 800 social media users and nearly 100 politicians and journalists have been detained for criticizing the operation.[87][85][88] Turkish authorities have also arrested numerous leaders and high-ranking members of pro-Kurdish and left-wing political parties.[89] According to the United Nations, as of March 2018, approximately 167,000 people were displaced due to the Turkish intervention.[72]


Demonstration in Afrin (top) to support the YPG and the YPJ against the Turkish military operation, and demonstration in Bizaah (bottom) to support the Turkish military operation in Afrin against the YPG and the YPJ, 19 January 2018.

After Syrian government forces pulled out of Afrin in 2012, Kurdish YPG forces took control of the territory.[90] Afrin managed to maintain some trust with both the Syrian government and its neighboring rebel groups.[91] In February 2016, during the latter part of the Battle of Aleppo, Syrian government forces cut off the rebel supply route to Aleppo. Subsequently, the SDF moved eastward out of Afrin, and successfully attacked the rebels, capturing the Menagh Military Airbase and the town of Tell Rifaat. In response, Turkish forces shelled SDF positions across the border to protect the rebel-held city of Azaz.[92][93] In 2017, Russian military troops stationed themselves in Afrin as part of an agreement to protect the YPG from further Turkish attacks.[94]

Turkey had been fighting PKK and other groups in southeastern and eastern Turkey for several decades. The Kurdish–Turkish conflict is estimated to have cost 40,000 lives. The Turkish government has publicly stated that it does not recognize a difference between the Syrian YPG forces and PKK, and says both are terrorist organizations.[95] While the PKK has been designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States, the United States' position on the YPG is that it is not a terrorist organization, a stance that has generated much conflict between the two NATO allies.[96][97] Despite this, the CIA named the PYD as the "Syrian wing" of the PKK in its World Factbook on 23 January 2018.[98] On 14 February, Director of National Intelligence described YPG as the Syrian wing of PKK in its new report.[99]

During the early stages of the operation, United States Secretary of Defense James Mattis noted that Turkey was the only NATO ally with an "active insurgency" within its borders. Mattis acknowledged that Turkey has "legitimate security concerns" regarding PKK, and said Turkey had consulted the United States prior to launching the offensive.[100] The offensive came amid growing tension between the Turkish and American governments over the latter's support of the Syrian Democratic Forces, which are made up primarily of Kurdish fighters of the YPG, which Turkey considers to be a branch of the PKK. In particular, Turkey objected to announced plans by the US to train and equip a 30,000 strong SDF border force, which Turkey claimed posed a direct threat to their security. "A country we call an ally is insisting on forming a terror army on our borders," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a speech in Ankara. "What can that terror army target but Turkey? Our mission is to strangle it before it's even born."[101]

According to media reports with reference to sources in the Syrian Kurdish leadership, shortly before the Turkish incursion, as an alternative option, Russia proposed that the Kurdish authorities in Afrin recognise the Syrian government's control in the region; the proposal was rejected at the time.[102][103]

The Afrin offensive has jeopardized the Astana Peace Process by placing the major parties—Russia, Iran, and Turkey—on opposing sides of the conflict. According to an Iranian official, Tehran has warned Ankara that "many parties might want to see Turkey stuck in a quagmire" and has advised that Turkey "try to contain this adventure". Tehran's position is that the Kurdish fighters are not acting independently, but rather are receiving support from multiple sides in the conflict.[104]

In the days prior to the offensive, Turkey and the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army exchanged artillery fire with YPG militants along the Turkish-Syrian border near Afrin. The YPG shelled the TFSA-held town of Azaz.[105][106] The Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency reported that Russian military observers in the Afrin area began withdrawing on 19 January 2018 in anticipation of a Turkish offensive on YPG positions in Afrin.[107][108]

On 12 February, Turkey's Interior Ministry added former PYD co-leader Salih Muslim Muhammad to its "wanted terrorists" list along with several new names and offered money for information on his whereabouts.[109] On 25 February, Salih Muslim was detained in Prague at Turkey's request.[110] Turkish officials said that Muslim will appear before a court in Prague. Turkish Deputy PM Bekir Bozdağ said that Turkey is requesting Muslim's extradition.[111] However Czech court released Muslim.[112] Turkish Deputy PM said this was "a move in support of terror".[113]

Other Languages
العربية: هجوم عفرين
Nederlands: Operatie Olijftak