Turkey’s president said Sunday that allied Syrian forces have taken “total” control of the town center of Afrin, the target of a nearly two-month offensive against a Syrian Kurdish militia, which said the fighting was still underway.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the Turkish flag and the flag of the Syrian opposition fighters has been raised in the town, previously controlled by the Kurdish militia known as the People’s Defense Units, or YPG.
“Many of the terrorists had turned tail and run away already,” Erdogan said.
Turkey’s military tweeted that its forces are now conducting combing operations to search for land mines and explosives. The army tweeted a video showing a soldier holding a Turkish flag and a man waving the Syrian opposition flag on the balcony of the district parliament building with a tank stationed on the street.
A Kurdish official, Hadia Yousef, told The Associated Press the YPG fighters have not fled the town, but have evacuated the remaining civilians because of “massacres.” She said clashes in the town were still underway.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Turkey-backed forces have taken control of half the town, with intense fighting still underway.
Turkey views the Kurdish forces in the Afrin enclave along the border as terrorists because of their links to the Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey.
It launched an offensive against the town and surrounding areas on Jan. 20, slowly squeezing the militia and hundreds of thousands of civilians into the town center.
The Observatory says nearly 200,000 people have fled the Afrin region in recent days amid heavy airstrikes, entering Syrian government-held territory nearby.
The YPG was a key U.S. ally in the fight against the Islamic State group, and seized large areas across northern and eastern Syria with the help of coalition airstrikes.
But Erdogan has repeatedly said that NATO ally Turkey will not allow a “terror corridor” along its border. At least 46 Turkish soldiers have been killed since the offensive began.
The Kurdish militia and the Observatory said Turkish jets struck Afrin’s main hospital on Friday, killing over a dozen people. The Turkish military denied the allegations.