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UN Security Council Sets Session On Turkey’s Operation In Syria

Turkish forces have begun an exercise that seeks to oust U.S.-backed Kurdish militia from Syria's Afrin region.

The United Nations Security Council is set to discuss the humanitarian situation in Syria's Afrin region after Turkish troops and warplanes led a military operation in the Kurdish-run enclave.

Diplomats on January 21 said the closed-door talks, called at France’s request, are scheduled for January 22 at around 11:30 a.m. local time in New York and they will also address the Syrian government’s military campaign in Idlib Province and Eastern Ghouta.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said his country was deeply worried by the "brutal degradation of the situation" in Afrin, where rights monitors say at least 18 people have been killed in the first 24 hours of the Turkish operation.

Turkish forces on January 20 began the exercise that seeks to oust the U.S.-backed YPG militia from Afrin, despite U.S. warnings that such a move could further destabilize the area.

The Turks accuse the YPG of having links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency in southeast Turkish for more than 30 years. The PKK is regarded as a terror group by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union.

On January 21, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said his country's troops had crossed over the Syrian border on the second day of Ankara's operation.

He claimed that YPG forces had fired 11 rockets at Turkish towns, killing at least one Syrian refugee in a border village and injuring 47 other people.

Officials said Turkish forces were advancing alongside forces from the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which seeks to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and is backed by the Turkish military.

The number of the Turkish soldiers involved in the offensive was not specified.

Yildirim was quoted as saying the operation was aimed at creating a security zone some 30 kilometers deep inside Syria.

'Legitimate Concerns'

In a statement issued on January 21, the United States urged Turkey to exercise restraint and ensure that the offensive is "limited in scope and duration."

Still, separately, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said NATO ally Turkey had "legitimate" concerns in Syria and that U.S. officials had received advance notice of the Turkish operation.

"Turkey was candid,” he told reporters. “They warned us before they launched the aircraft they were going to do it in consultation with us, and we are working now on the way ahead through the ministry of foreign affairs."

"Our top levels are engaged...And we're working through [the situation]," he added.

The Syrian government condemned what it called "Turkish aggression on Afrin," Syrian state media reported on January 20.

Iran and Egypt have also condemned the Turkish operation.

The Turkish military said 153 Kurdish militant targets had been hit by Turkish artillery and warplanes, including shelters, hideouts, and arsenals used by the militants.

Turkish officials confirmed there had been casualties, but said they were all members of Kurdish militias.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the "Olive Branch" military operation that had begun in Afrin would be followed by another operation in nearby Manbij.

"Our jets took off and started bombing. And now the ground operation is under way," Erdogan said.

“Now we see how the YPG...are fleeing in Afrin. We will chase them. God willing, we will complete this operation very quickly."

The Russian Defense Ministry said it was withdrawing its troops from the Afrin area to "prevent potential provocation and exclude the threat to the life and well-being of the Russian military."

Russia has given Assad's government crucial military backing in recent years in a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions since it began with a state crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in March 2011.

Russia's state-run RIA Novosti news agency said Moscow would demand at the United Nations that Turkey halt its operation, citing a member of the Russian parliament's security committee.

Along with Russia, Iran also backs Assad in the country's civil war, while the United States and Turkey back differing rebel groups fighting the central government.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa, and CNN Turk