Russian troops and armor arrive in Afrin in northwest Syria
The Kurdish militia YPG says it has agreed to the establishment of a Russian military base in the Afrin canton in northwestern Syria.
The YPG said Moscow will help train its fighters.
The Russian Defense Ministry denied any plans for new military bases. Instead, it said a branch of its “reconciliation center”, pursuing capitulations of opposition territory, had been placed near the town of Afrin in Aleppo Province.
But YPG spokesman Redur Xelil said Russian troops are already arriving with troop carriers and armored vehicles.
Footage of the Russian deployment:
Russia has stepped up its political and military support of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Party (PYD) and its YPG militia. Earlier this month Moscow and the US placed units and equipment near Manbij, northeast of Aleppo city, to protect the city — held by the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces — from an advance by a Turkish-rebel force.
The Kurdish canton of Afrin is separated from the cantons of Cezire and Kobane in northeast Syria by opposition and Turkish-rebel territory.
The YPG’s step — and any Russian acceptance — is likely to heighten tensions with Turkey. Ankara considers the PYD and YPG as part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK, which has been fighting Turkish security forces for more than 30 years.
Russia’s main base for its September 2015 air and ground intervention has been Hmeimim in Latakia Province in western Syria. However, Russian warplanes, special forces, and military advisors have been positioned throughout much of the country.
US Airstrike Kills Another Commander of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham
A US airstrike has killed another commander of the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham bloc.
The latest attack killed Abu Islam al-Masri in Darkoush in Idlib Province.
The US has stepped up manned and unmanned airstrikes on HTS, which includes the faction Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) since the start of the year. More than 100 fighters of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and the allied Nur ed-Din al-Zinki Brigade were killed in late January, and a series of commanders have been slain.
US strikes last week killed about 56 civilians in a mosque in western Aleppo Province.
2nd White Helmets Rescuer Killed This Week
A 2nd White Helmets rescuer has been killed by regime attacks within days:
— Majd khalaf (@majdkhalaf1993) March 21, 2017
Earlier this week the director of White Helmets operations in Daraa Province in southern Syria, Abdullah al-Sarhan, was killed by a regime missile.