The Newest: Haley accuses Russian Federation of distraction on Syria

Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army fighters shout slogans before heading towards the Syrian border in Kirikhan Turkey Sunday Jan. 21. Turkish troops and Syrian opposition forces attacked a Kurdish enclave in northern Syria on Sunday in their bid to drive

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on January 23 issued a strong rebuke of Turkey's offensive against a U.S. -allied Kurdish militia in northern Syria, saying it is distracting from the fight against Islamic State militants.

Another fighter, 34-year-old Massoud Baravi, and many of his comrades fear Turkey will be emboldened to attack Kurdish areas east of the Euphrates, where the YPG has routed the Islamic State group. The Syrian Kurds are the main USA ally against the Islamic State group in Syria, and played a key role in driving the extremists from much of the country's northeast.

Ankara says the extremist group is largely finished in Syria and that the greater threat comes from the YPG, which it sees as an extension of a Kurdish group that has waged a decades-long separatist insurgency inside Turkish own borders.

The US response was measured. The U.N. says an estimated 5,000 people have been displaced by fighting in northern Syria, and it's unclear what the U.S.is willing to do to calm the situation.

The United Nations made clear it was ready and willing to deliver aid to the 50,000 people in Afrin should it be needed as world powers, including the United States, called on Turkey to exercise restraint in the offensive as not to risk causing a major crisis.

The UN says at least 323,000 people reside in Afrin, almost half of whom have fled from other parts of Syria. "Turkey is falling into a Russian trap to peel Turkey away from the U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation".

Peskov said USA officials were jumping to conclusions "without any grounds whatsoever".

On Tuesday, the Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency reported that rebels had captured the "strategic" village of Hammam in north-western Afrin, and had begun allowing civilians to return to eight already "liberated" villages and rural areas.

Erdogan told Macron on Tuesday Turkey was taking all measures to prevent civilian casualties in the Afrin operation, sources at the presidential palace said.

There are minority populations of ethnic Kurds in Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran. Turkey also brands the Kurdish fighters in neighboring Syria as terrorists, citing their links to Kurdish militants on Turkey's side of the border. The Observatory said 43 Ankara-backed rebels and 38 Kurdish fighters had been killed in the fighting so far.

The border security force was opposed by the US State Department, which lost out in a bureaucratic struggle with the Pentagon.

Russia, a close ally of the Syrian regime, and Turkey agreed that Syria's territorial sovereignty should ultimately be respected. It would also meet USA objectives, since Washington has labeled the PKK a terrorist organization.

"Erdogan has promised he will finish off the YPG in Afrin and anywhere else all the way up to the Iraqi border", Pierini said.

Whether the YPG would give up control of territory it has held since 2012 (and turned into a de facto autonomous Kurdish region) is another matter.

Why does America support the YPG over Turkey's objections?

But Kirişci was highly skeptical that such a development would happen.

"The relationship between the United States and Turkey has been very tense for a very long time", Edelman told CNN.

The Kilis office of Gov. Mehmet Tekinarslan said later that two people died — a Turkish citizen and a Syrian national who were wounded inside the mosque during evening prayers.

While there might have been some discussions by military planning of such a plan, "there was never such a plan that had any political approval" and was not considered at the policy level in Washington, the official said.

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