The Turkish military has suffered its deadliest day during its Kurdish offensive in Syria's Afrin region as seven of its troops were killed during an attack on Saturday (3 February).
The Turkish operation aims to clear Afrin of the US-backed Syrian Kurdish militia, known as the People's Protection Units or YPG, which Turkey considers to be a terrorist group and an extension of the Kurdish insurgency within its borders.
Turkey launched the incursion into Afrin to rout the USA -backed Syrian Kurdish militia, known as the People's Protection Units or YPG, which it considers to be a terrorist organization and an extension of Kurdish insurgents fighting within Turkey.
Erdogan said in a speech Saturday that the Turkish forces were beginning to take mountain positions and would now head towards Afrin itself.
He flagged United States support to YPG Syrian Kurdish separatists having links with PKK Turkish separatist Kurds and adhering to Turkish request to expel Fethullah Gulen, responsible for the 2016 coup d'état against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
A Syrian monitoring group and the media arm of al-Qaida-linked militants are reporting intense airstrikes on a rebel-held stronghold in Syria's northwest.
The military said Saturday's deaths were related to Turkey's operation against the Syrian Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin, codenamed Olive Branch.
"If [the YPG] do not withdraw from Manbij, then we will go to Manbij, we will go east of the Euphrates", Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said Sunday on CNN.
Ankara said nearly 900 YPG fighters have been killed so far.
In anor tape also sent to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an armed man is heard saying in Arabic next to corpse of combatant: "These are PKK pigs", in reference to Kurdistan Workers ' Party, guerrillas raised in Arms against central power in souastern Anatolia for more than three decades, and that government of Ankara associates YPJ of Syria.
According to Turkey, it is targeting the YPG, the main Kurdish militia in the area.
"What they see is that Iran is going to stay in Syria in the long run", said a senior Turkish official. Any armed conflict between US and Turkish forces would likely involve proxy forces, armed and backed by Ankara and Washington, respectively, rather than American and Turkish troops trading fire, she said.
The two countries have improved ties and cooperated in Syria in recent months, but relations hit an all-time low in 2015, when Turkey, a longtime supporter of the country's rebels, also shot down a Russian warplane inside Syria. In May past year, an AFP photographer made a number of images showing armed men in uniform - identified by Syrian rebels as US SOF operators - in a pickup truck equipped with an Mk 19 grenade launcher.