March 12, 2018

Afrin: Interim Results of the “Olive Branch” Operation

Vadym Volokhov

The analysis of the media reports allows us to conclude that Turkey has completed the conditional first phase of the “Olive Branch” Operation.

Over the past 7 weeks, the Turkish troops, with the support of units of the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA), have fulfilled the key task of the operation: almost completely have taken control of the border with Syria in the area of Afrin Canton.

In fact, the entire northern border of Syria is controlled by Turkey and the USA, with the exception of a few kilometers of the coast in Latakia.

This means that B. Assad's regime will not be able to regain control of its borders, even in the far future.

Note:

January 21, 2018, the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet Daily News, referring to the office of Prime Minister of Turkey Binali Yildirim, unveiled the purpose of this Operation:

Interim Results of the “Olive Branch” Operation1. To establish control over the territory of Afrin with an area of 10 thousand square kilometers by the “Free Syrian Army” forces.

2. Following on from the Operation “Euphrates Shield” in the Syrian province of Idlib, to completely block the “Kurdistan Workers’ Party” (PKK)'s reaching the Mediterranean coast.

3. To exclude the possibility of losing Turkey's geographic contact with the Arab world.

4. To guarantee the security of the Turkish border with Syria.

5. To prevent the infiltration of the “Democratic Union Party” (PYD) and the PKK into Turkey through the Amanos Mountains.

6. To take control of the Tell Rifaat region and ensure the return of civilians to their homes.

7. To counter the USA's military support to terrorist organizations.

It is clear that, first of all, Ankara was creating a “buffer zone” and preventing Kurdish troops' infiltration into Turkey. The fight against terrorism “without compromises and to the very end” went into the background. The barrier has been created, not the one sought, but there is one, and Turkey is already able to tightly control it.

At the beginning of March, there was a pause and it could be foreseen that Ankara's next step would be to control the important crossroads of the entire Western Euphrates — the city of Manbij. But prior to this, the Turkish troops and the FSA units must take Afrin. For this end, they captured the cities of Rajo and Jandaris, located north-west of Afrin and several settlements southwest of it. The next step is to “clean up” the Rajo and Jandaris areas, because these cities are strategically important for the development of a successful offensive on Afrin. Afrin's assault is a matter of the near future.

At the same time, R. Erdogan needs to resolve an important problem for himself: to “pass over” the Kurds to Afrin under the control of anyone — either B. Assad's regime, or the Kremlin with its units of mercenaries and the PMC’s. It is clear that Ankara's main condition at this will be the requirement of complete disarmament of the Kurdish units and the resolution of issues of control over the situation and providing the population of the Canton with food.

Since March 8, Ankara has resumed its offensive on Afrin. It was expected that, unlike the plan of operation, Ankara is not going to seize the territory of the entire Canton, because then there would be a problem: what to do with the hostile to Ankara population of many thousands. Either to “drive” it out of the region, or to spend years on taming Kurds. Both options take a lot of time and money, and Turkey does not have it. Therefore, the transfer of the region, with the exception of the “buffer zone”, under the control of others is the least evil, and someone will volunteer.

Since March 8, Ankara has resumed its offensive on Afrin
Since March 8, Ankara has resumed its offensive on Afrin

However, in recent days there have been several events that have affected Ankara's plans.

Firstly, Washington has proposed to establish a joint control over the city of Manbij and withdraw the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF) beyond the Euphrates. In case of the adoption of this proposal, Ankara will establish its control over the entire border area to the west of the Euphrates. It should be borne in mind that the SDF units are formed not only of Kurds, there are many Arabs. It is an official coalition fighting the regime of B. Assad, and if Ankara is able to influence the process of creating a border guard from the SDF, it will form it at the expense of the Arab part of the local population and will not allow the Kurds of the PKK to go to the territory of Turkey.

Secondly, on March 8, there was information on the preparation of a joint Turkish-Iraqi operation against the Kurdish groups in the North of Iraq. It is clear that the Kurds in the Sinjar enclave of the PKK are meant, who are a great concern to all: Turkey, Iraq, Iran and even M. Barzani. According to the Haber Türk TV channel, details are not yet known, but it is unlikely that the operation will begin before the Iraqi elections scheduled for May 2018.

Thirdly, on March 7, official representatives of the SDF reported the redeployment of several SDF units from the Deir ez-Zor province, where they participated in the “al-Jazeera Storm” Operation against ISIS forces, in the Afrin area to support the Kurdish “People's Protection Units” (YPG) opposed to Turkish troops and FSA.

On the other hand, the occupation of the Kurdish enclave completely excludes the presence of any anti-Turkish armed formations and guarantees the security of Turkish borders. At this, Turkey is forced to take up the issue of the arrangement of territories and the return of refugees. Incidentally, it is anticipated that up to 200,000 refugees could return to Afrin.

In fact, the entire northern border of Syria is controlled by Turkey and the USA
In fact, the entire northern border of Syria is controlled
by Turkey and the USA

Along with the success of the “Olive Branch”, Turkey is facing a number of problems that it will have to resolve:

Firstly, in order to ensure order and safety on the territory of the Canton, part of the FSA units should be left, which will reduce the strength of forces that will be involved in the operation in the Manbij area.

Secondly, the occupation of the Canton of Afrin will make Ankara negotiate with the United States, as all other areas are under Washington's control and creation of a “buffer zone” becomes subject to Turkish-American agreements. Now Washington will have the opportunity to break the balance of the “three” (Turkey, Russia, Iran) and such an alliance is becomes useless for Ankara.

Thirdly, the occupation of the Canton will lead to confrontation with Iran (which controls Aleppo), with Moscow (which is trying to keep Manbij under its control), and finally with them all over the Idlib area.

 

Thus, to date, Turkey has secured its border with Syria, created a “buffer zone” and continued an offensive against Afrin to capture the territory of the Kurdish canton. The more territory Ankara takes under its control, the more chances it will have to dictate its conditions in the forthcoming talks with Moscow and Tehran.