Turkish-backed rebels advance on Kurdish-held Syrian town

TAF 3,055 terrorists 'neutralized' in Afrin operation

The advances of the Turkish troops and Turkish-backed forces on the ground was backed up by airstrikes from Turkish warplanes which targeted frontline areas as well as Afrin city itself.

Turkish armed forces are besieging the Syrian Kurdish-controlled district of Afrin in northern Syria, Turkey's president has said.

"Today, there were also clashes around Bulbul, where they announced around 30 days ago that they captured, occupied it", he said.

Speaking at a joint news conference with his Austrian counterpart Karin Kneissl, Cavusoglu told reporters in Vienna that Turkey wanted the operation to end as quickly as possible so that Afrin can "embrace stability and civilians can return".

"Olive Branch" initially made slow progress, but the capture on Thursday of Jandairis, a major town in the Kurdish-held enclave, has given the operation a clear shot at the central town of Afrin.

Manbij, the next main YPG-held town east of Afrin, is a particular flashpoint as it has an American military presence there. "The next day we will ensure that the east of Euphrates will be cleared of terrorists up to the Iraqi border", he said.

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On a visit to Ankara last month, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that Turkey and the US had to solve the tensions surrounding Manbij as a "priority".

Turkey launched the operation on January 20 to clear the People's Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara considers a terror group affiliated to the PKK, from northwestern Syria.

On Jan. 20, the Turkish Armed Forces, together with the Free Syrian Army, launched the Operation Olive Branch in Afrin, Syria.

Despite encountering fierce resistance - which has seen 42 Turkish troops lose their lives - the Turkish military and its Syrian allies appear to have gained new momentum in the last weeks.

Relations between North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies United States and Turkey have been strained over a number of issues, notably the U.S. arming of the YPG.

Nauert added that, "This is an introductory meeting where we can start to hopefully work out some of these issues".

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