AFRIN, Syria / ISTANBUL, Turkey
The Turkish military and Free Syrian Army (FSA) on Saturday liberated 12 more strategic villages in Afrin, northwestern Syria
According to Anadolu Agency correspondents on the ground, the villages Kokana, Ayn al-Hajar and Haji Qasimli are now controlled by Turkey-backed forces, cutting off the main highway between the town of
Later in the day, another five villages -- the Mirkan and Sino villages in the Mabatli district, Tatara village in the Jinderes district, the Shaykh Ubasi and Jatal Qabu villages in the northwestern part of Afrin -- were liberated from terrorists.
An operation in the Mabatli town center -- the sixth town center of the region -- has not been launched yet.
The other five town centers -- southwestern Jinderes, western Shaykh al-Hadid, northwestern Rajo, northern Bulbul and northeastern Sharan -- have already been cleared of terrorists.
In the town of Jinderes, the forces also took control of the villages of
The Astaro village of Afrin city center has also been cleared of terrorists.
Since the launch of the operation, the Turkish military and FSA have liberated 273 locations, including five town centers, 229 villages, 44 strategic mountains and hills, and one YPG/PKK base.
The forces reached Afrin city's border last week and encircled it.
On Jan. 20, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch to clear PYD/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin.
According to the Turkish General Staff, the operation aims to establish security and stability along Turkey’s borders and the region as well as protect Syrians from terrorist oppression and cruelty.
The operation is being carried out under the framework of Turkey's rights based on international law, UN Security Council resolutions, its self-defense rights under the UN charter, and respect for Syria's territorial integrity, it said.
The military also said only terror targets were being destroyed and the "utmost care" is being taken to not harm civilians.