This post is focused on the state of Turkey’s Olive Branch operation in Northern Syria against the Kurdish forces entrenched there. The operation began on January 20th 2017 and has since then achieved control of the entire border area between Syria and Turkey in Afrin.
In addition to simply securing the border and preventing the possibility of cross-border attacks into Turkey itself, this “snake” has the effect of linking the Northern Aleppo rebel areas created by Turkey’s previous Euphrates Shield operation to the rebel-controlled areas in the Idlib province. This move allows for enhanced supply lines to be used and gives Turkey a strategic advantage by essentially containing the Kurdish forces in a pocket and allowing for a possible future pincer movement in which Afrin is attacked from both the Northern Aleppo and Idlib sides.
In order to prevent the formation of such a cauldron, the Kurdish side and Syrian government forces reportedly reached a deal which would see pro-government units move into Afrin and therefore deter the Turkish advance. This deal, although at first denied by YPG spokesmen, materialised on February 20th, when a pro-government militia convoy “waving Syrian flags and brandishing weapons – entered Afrin”.
This convoy was shortly thereafter greeted by Turkish artillery fire, which bombed the roads leading into Afrin proper as a warning to the entering forces. According to current information a contingent of pro-government forces did make it into Afrin, however these appear not to be Syrian Arab Army units, but rather a collection of militias which are part of the pro-government National Defence Force (NDF).
According to the Institute for the Study of War, “Russia allegedly intervened to block a more wide-ranging deal that called for the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) to deploy to the Syrian-Turkish Border in Afrin Canton, according to anonymous pro-regime sources.”. This would explain the decision to only send militia units into the region.
In addition to the NDF forces, latests information suggests that the SDF is diverting units from other fronts and sending up to 1700 fighters to Afrin as reinforcement. Other rumors state that the YPG is considering the opening of a “second front against Turkish-led forces in the Euphrates Shield area from Manbij” in order to relieve the pressure placed on Afrin.
All in all, these developments further muddy the almost impenetrable waters of the Syrian conflict, with Turkey seemingly willing to take all possible measures to extinguish the flame of Kurdish independence and all others changing allegiances and alliances on what almost seems to be a daily basis.
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Erik Markus Kannike