AFRIN, Syria (AP) — The Turkish army and Syrian opposition fighters it backs have “total control” of the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northern Syria, according to the country’s official news agency on Saturday, nearly a week after they captured the main town that carries the same name.
Anadolu news agency said the Turkish military was continuing its sweep for mines and explosives to allow Afrin’s resident’s to return, following airstrikes and clashes with Syrian Kurdish forces.
Associated Press journalists on a press tour organized by the Turkish government Saturday passed through the northwestern town of Jinderes en route to central Afrin.
Jinderes, captured by Turkey and allied Syrian opposition fighters, was the scene of heavy street clashes earlier in March. The AP saw a widely destroyed and empty town.
Turkey launched a ground and air offensive on Jan. 20 codenamed Olive Branch to oust the main Syrian Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, from Afrin. Turkey considers the YPG a terror group and an extension of Kurdish rebels waging an insurgency within its own borders.
Syrian Kurdish officials and the country’s state media said the Turkish offensive displaced more than 200,000 people from their homes.
In Afrin’s town center, captured Sunday, allied Syrian forces patrolled the streets as Turkish tanks and armored personnel carriers drove past.
Ismail Montaser Billah, a Syrian fighter, said the YPG withdrew from Afrin after resisting the offensive. “They had left mines but thank God we took (the town) and we will step on their heads God willing,” he said. Turkish and Syrian opposition flags were flying in the area.
Civilians, including women and children, were out and about in central Afrin. Abdul-Rahman Mohammed, a civilian, said the YPG mistreated locals who did not cooperate with them. “We are suffering because of a lack of food and water,” he added.
The Turkish Red Crescent distributed food and aid in Afrin. Kerem Kinik, the organization’s president, said some 100,000 civilians remained in and around Afrin.