On Monday, March 12, Turkish forces reportedly encircled the Kurdish-controlled town of Afrin and adjacent areas (including roughly 700,000 people), as part of their ongoing advance in the Afrin region of Syria. According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, thousands of people have also been displaced from Afrin to the nearby towns of Nubl and Al-Zahraa in recent days. Continued fighting between Turkish and Kurdish forces are expected in Afrin region in the coming days and weeks.
Turkish forces may also advance on Manbij (around 100 km [60 mi] east of Afrin) in the coming weeks if no decision is reached on March 19 between Turkish and American officials regarding the withdrawal of Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) fighters from Manbij and the subsequent provision of security in the area by Turkish and American soldiers.
The Turkish cross-border campaign, termed "Operation Olive Branch," officially began on January 20. The operation aims to target the YPG - considered by Ankara as a terrorist organization and ally of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) - in Kurdish-controlled northern Syria. Turkish forces seek to establish a 30-km (20-mi) "safe zone" in the area.
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned the Syrian army against supporting Kurdish militias in Afrin. A deal was reportedly reached between Turkey and Assad's major international allies in the conflict, Russia and Iran, on February 19 to prevent the intervention of the Syrian army in the region. However, on February 20, pro-Syrian regime forces entered the Kurdish-controlled region to assist YPG fighters in halting the advance of Turkish troops.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) called for a 30-day nationwide ceasefire on February 24, effective immediately. According to the UNSC, the agreed-upon ceasefire would be in effect across Syria, except in areas where armed forces are fighting the Islamic State (IS), Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham (Al-Nusra Front), and Al-Qa'ida-affiliated militants, among other designated terror groups. Fighting has continued across Syria in recent days despite the ceasefire.
Due to extremely poor security conditions, Western governments generally advise against all travel to Syria, with some banning travel to the country. Professional security advice and support should be sought prior to any travel to Syria.
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