The Turkish military has suffered its deadliest day during its Kurdish offensive in Syria's Afrin region as seven of its troops were killed during an attack on Saturday (3 February). As the military campaign enters the third week, Ankara has pledged those who were behind the latest killings would face dire consequences.

On 20 January, Turkey had abruptly launched Operation Olive Branch vowing to root out Kurdish militants -- which the country considers as "terrorists" -- from Syrian territories, especially in Afrin.

Since the beginning of the military campaign, Turkey said its forces have "neutralised" little less than 900 militants. It means the militants could have been killed, captured or even surrendered.

But, on 3 February, seven Turkish soldiers were killed as five of them lost their lives when a tank came under attack in northeastern parts of Afrin. Other two soldiers were killed during clashes with YPG Kurdish militia.

"They will pay for this twice as much. We have given the necessary response instantly, and we continue to do so," said Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. "It is an operation aimed at liberating Arabs, and our Kurdish and Turkmen brothers who have been groaning under oppression."

Immediately after the onslaught, Turkish forces launched an aerial bombardment to target Kurdish positions in the region. In total, Turkey has lost 14 soldiers in the Afrin operation including the latest casualty.

When speaking about how long the rest of the operation will take to fully capture Afrin, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he is affirmative that it is nearing the end. "We are advancing into Afrin [town centre]. We are close," he said indicating the entire offensive could be wrapped up soon. Thousands have been displaced from the region since the start of Operation Olive Branch.

Ankara has blamed the YPG and other Kurdish militia in the region for several cross-border attacks and targeting civilians during the three-week long confrontation. The Kurdish militants, who once had the backing of the US in the fight against the Islamic State (Isis), were blamed for killing seven civilians and injuring dozens of others including children. The figures, however, cannot be independently verified.

Turkey Syria Kurds
Turkish soldiers pose for a photo after apparently capturing Mount Barsaya, outside Afrin Nazeer al-Khatib/AFP