January 20, 2018

Afrin: Turkey Is Ready to Launch a War Against the Kurds

Vadym Volokhov

As of January 19, 2018, no official announcement of the beginning of operation yet, but in fact the Turkish operation in the Syrian northern district of Afrin has begun.

A quick withdrawal of Russian police units from the Kafr Janneh base in Afrin district to the territory under the control of the Syrian army (in al-Zahraa district) is being reported. It is also known that Russian troops are leaving their positions in other areas as well. Of course, this is the result of the meeting between the Turkish and the RF military, during which the Turkish side categorically made it clear to the Russian partners that they could not guarantee their security.

Turkey's Minister of Defense Nurettin Ganikli told that the date of the start of the counterterrorist operation in Afrin depends on Ankara's plans and will be determined in accordance with Turkey's interests. “Terrorists in the North of Syria will be destroyed, there's no other way out”, the Minister said.

Turkey has long been talking about the need for an operation in Afrin, and it is clear that it can begin soon. Incidentally, on the night of January 19, Turkish aviation already hit the city of Afrin with bombs. The countdown has begun. It is the matter of hours now.

The question arises: why does Turkey intend to launch a military operation on the western borders with Syria?

Firstly, it is from Afrin that the Turkish provinces of Hatay and Kilis are periodically subjected to missile attacks. In total, over the past year, the territory of Turkey had been fired from the area of Afrin more than 10 times.

Secondly, Afrin is isolated from other territories of Syria and is under the control of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union (PYD) and the YPG (“Syrian Kurdish Self-Defense Forces”, the Syrian wing of the PKK — “Kurdistan Workers Party”). In the South of Afrin are Syrian government troops, in the South-West and North-East — the forces of the opposition “Free Syrian Army” (FSA). Such an alignment of forces and the isolation of Afrin make this enclave the most vulnerable.



Western or Syrian Kurdistan is also called “Rojava” and it unites two enclaves (cantons): Afrin and Kobani.

Between them is the A'zaz district, which is controlled by Turkey and pro-Turkish groups of Turkomans.

Almost 90 % of the Syrian-Turkish border is controlled by the PYD and YPG units, and only a small part is under the control of the FSA.

The frontier areas were liberated from the terrorists of the “Islamic State” (ISIS) within the framework of the Turkish Operation “Euphrates Shield” in August 2016.

Western Kurdistan is in a state of war with Turkey, and its armed formations are the basis of the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF), supported by the International Coalition and the United States. After the defeat of the ISIS, Washington continues military co-operation with the SDF. In this regard, we should mention the statement by a Spokesman for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL Thomas Veale of January 14, in which he stressed that the United States based on the SDF units would prepare a new Syrian Border Security Force of 30,000 servicemen.

A few days later, the Al Masdar news agency released information that the United States had handed over to the Kurds in Afrin a batch of portable anti-aircraft missile systems. Along with this, Western Kurdistan tries to pursue its independent policy with Moscow. For 2018 are scheduled parliamentary elections in Rojava, which is a practical step towards independence of the region.

In addition, the USA's arming the PYD and YPG units can undoubtedly lead to a split in Syria, which undermines the Syrian government's interests, but also those of Russia, Turkey and Iran.

January 17, US Secretary of State R. Tillerson, speaking at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University, said the United States would continue to cooperate with Turkey in view of its concern with the terrorist threat posed by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The Turkish mass media quickly disseminated this news. As a matter of fact, Washington has divided all the Kurds into their “own”, which are part of the US-controlled SDF alliance, and all others — against which today Turkey plans to conduct a military operation. Ankara, of course, is happy with this approach. They themselves are equally concerned with all Kurdish formations operating in Syria, but right now they are busy with Afrin. Therefore, R. Tillerson's statement was seen by Ankara if not as a carte blanche, then at least as the USA's neutrality at the initial stage of the operation.

Ankara understands that in case of failure, Washington can declare the inadmissibility of such actions and to condemn Turkey. Therefore, R. Erdogan is in no hurry, the operation should be lightning so that nobody can say and do anything during its conduct.

If we briefly analyze the current situation, one can come to the conclusion that now R. Erdogan has the most favorable conditions for conducting an operation against the Kurds in Afrin.

He let Tehran easily occupy its occupation zone in the province of Aleppo. While Syrian troops had been struggling with extreme difficulty through the HTS (jihadist alliance “Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham”), the leading role in which belongs to the “Jabhat Fateh al-Sham” terrorist group (former “Jabhat al-Nusra”) and repulsing the counter-offensive of the pro-Turkish “moderate” “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) and “Ahraz al-Sham” formations, pro-Iranian militants took part of “their” zone to the west and southwest of Aleppo without any special problems due to no serious resistance from militants. Right now pro-Iranian proxy from Aleppo are trying to close the “pocket” in their zone of occupation from remnants of the “Jabhat al-Nusra” group.

With Baghdad and Moscow, the situation is much more complicated, the Turks are moving to the place of attack new forces of their militants, a huge amount of equipment, loading it with weapons, supplies, ammunition off-the-shelf of warehouses. The purpose of this very hard pressure is clear: they need to block the Syrian and Russian troops so that they could not intervene in the situation in the North of Syria.

All that is left to do is: to psychologically destroy the Kurds of Afrin before the start of operation to minimize the losses. On this will depend when to order the troops to take control of Afrin. Most likely, the Turks, as during the “Euphrates Shield” Operation, will be in the second echelon, and in the first will be formations of the locals.

R. Erdogan's logic seems impeccable, given the brief timing of the preparation of the operation, during which he is building the most favorable configuration of a possible operation in Afrin. Turkey plans to achieve maximum possible results, among which not only the capture of the Afrin canton of the Kurds, but also the exit into the Russian occupation zone for further trade with Russia.

The preparation and conduct of a new military operation in Syria is met with a mixed reception in Turkey itself. The opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) calls on the government to refrain from operation in Afrin. The opposition is explaining that such a military operation in northern Syria against the Kurdish PYD and YPG would exacerbate the situation inside Turkey, as it could lead to the intensification of the terrorist activities of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party).

As it stands, the question arises: will Iran and Russia support Turkey in a military operation in Afrin?

Despite the fact that the split of Syria does not suit Iran and Russia, Moscow and Tehran will not support Ankara in Afrin.

The Lebanese “Hezbollah”, which previously actively supported the Syrian army against the opposition and ISIS terrorists, will hardly launch hostilities against the PYD and YPG. So, the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) units will, as before, be Turkey's only ally.

Military analysts predict that the operation in Afrin will start from three directions — from Turkey, as well as from the North-East and South-West of this region, where the FSA units are located.

A former leader of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union (PYD), Salih Muslim said his party's units were ready to resist Turkish troops if they crossed the border with Syria. “We are ready to defend ourselves and the peaceful population of our region”, he emphasized.

Commander-in-Chief of the “Syrian Kurdish Self-Defense Forces” (YPG), Sipan Hamo, said his troops would be able to clear the region from Erdogan's threats, as they did during the anti-ISIS struggle.

The Office of the Kurdish National Council in Afrin in its statement called on all Kurds to unite in the struggle against Turkey. The Kurds also report the arrival in the region of “Peshmerga” units from the Iraqi Kurdistan.

Syria's Ministry of Defense has considered Turkey's intentions as a threat to Syria's sovereignty and warned Ankara about the SAR Armed Forces' readiness to fight the aggressor.

Turkey's military experts also do not rule out that in case of successful military operations in Afrin, the Syrian authorities can open the corridor for the retreat of Kurdish PYD and YPG units to the East of the country.

In this case, it is considered possible that Afrin will be the battlefield for the United States and Turkey.

So, the situation in Western Kurdistan is very tense, and Turkey is ready to begin the operation soon.