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Trump tells Erdogan to curb Turkey's Afrin offensive in Syria

Two leaders discuss US arms supply to Kurdish militias and Turkey's military campaign via phone call
Turkey's offensive has targeted US-backed Kurdish YPG fighters in Afrin (Reuters)

US President Donald Trump told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to curtail his country's military operations in Syria's Afrin and avoid risk of conflict with American forces, the White House said.

In a phone call on Wednesday, "President Trump relayed concerns that escalating violence in Afrin, Syria, risks undercutting our shared goals in Syria," the White House said in a statement.

"He urged Turkey to deescalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties and increases to displaced persons and refugees."

However, a Turkish official criticised the White House's statement on the conversation on Thursday, saying it did not reflect what was actually discussed in the phone call.

"Trump did not share any 'concerns [about] escalating violence' with regard to the ongoing military operation in Afrin. The two leaders' discussion of Operation Olive Branch was limited to an exchange of views," the official told Al-Jazeera, on the condition of anonymity.

The official also denied there was any criticism of "destructive and false rhetoric coming from Turkey" as alleged by the statement.

Erdogan seemed critical of Trump’s comments and asked the United States to halt weapons support to the Kurdish YPG militias in Syria, Erdogan's office said.

The operation, launched on the weekend, aimed to "purge terrorist elements" from Afrin for Turkey's national security and was conducted on the basis of international law, the statement from the Turkish president's office said.

As the two leaders spoke, violence continued, in both Afrin - formerly a relatively stable pocket amid the chaos of Syria's ongoing civil war - and in a neighbouring region of Turkey, where rockets fired from Syria killed two people and wounded 11 more.

The rockets, one of which hit and damaged a mosque, were fired in the early evening in the border province of Kilis, an AFP correspondent at the scene said. The second fell on a house 100 metres away, Kilis Governor Mehmet Tekinarslan said. 

One Syrian and one Turk were killed, the governor's office said, in attacks it blamed on the YPG.   

Turkish artillery fire could be heard from the centre of Kilis.

Foreign fighters join YPG fight against Turkey in Afrin
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Erdogan said on Wednesday Turkey would extend its military operation in Syria to the town of Manbij, a move that could potentially bring Turkish forces into confrontation with those of their NATO ally the United States.

Turkey’s air and ground “Operation Olive Branch” in the Afrin region of northern Syria is now in its fifth day, targeting Kurdish YPG fighters and opening a new front in Syria’s multi-sided civil war.

A push towards Manbij, in a separate Kurdish-held enclave some 100 km east of Afrin, could threaten US plans to stabilise a swath of northeast Syria.

The US has around 2,000 special forces troops in Syria, officially as part of an international US-led coalition, assisting the Kurds in battle against Islamic State.

Ankara sees the YPG as an extension of a separatist Kurdish group within its own borders that has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

Syrian Kurdish forces and their allies have set up three autonomous cantons in the north, including Afrin in the northwest, since the start of the Syrian conflict.

They lie outside the control of the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Syrian Kurds and allied forces have seized large swathes of territory by helping the US and its allies to drive Islamic State group militants from the area.

The YPG is a key ally of the US in Syria, much to Turkey's ire.

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