vrijdag 14 juli 2017

Turkey Threatens The Kurds In Afrin, Syria, With Operation Euphrates Sword

Turkey has for months talked about an assault on the Kurdish-held city of Afrin in Syria's northeast, near the border with Turkey, and there are signs that the assault is imminent. (Afrin is in the northeast region shown in yellow on the map.) Turkish forces and Kurdish forces north of Afrin have been exchanging cross-border fire for weeks, and early this week a convoy of six military vehicles was sent as reinforcements to a city on Turkey's border with Syria. Over the weekend, Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a press conference at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. Kurds in Syria have links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been designated a terrorist group by America and countries in Europe, and which have conducted terrorist actions and low-level violence in Turkey for 30 years...

Map showing areas of control in Syria for government, ISIS, Kurds and rebels.  Afrin is north eastern Syria in the region shown in yellow in the top-left. (al-Jazeera)

Erdogan considers all Kurds in Syria to be terrorists. He called Afrin a "threat" to Turkey and left little doubt that the assault on Afrin is going to occur: "We will never remain silent or unresponsive to the backing and arming of terrorist groups, and the formation of terror islets right next to our border. We will not hesitate to use our legitimate right to defense against formations that threaten our country’s security. We will not allow a YPG threat. Afrin is a threat for us, we will give the necessary response. As long as this threat continues, we will activate our rules of engagement and will continue to give the necessary answer to those in Afrin." The military operation against Afrin and Kurdish enclaves and militias is called Operation Euphrates Sword, which has not yet begun, but may begin at any time. Turkey claims that the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) and Free Syrian Army (FSA) allies have amassed a force of 17,000 fighters for the assault. AFP(9-July) and Reuters
Last year, Turkey launched an earlier operation, Operation Euphrates Shield, whose purpose was to prevent the Kurds from taking control of Syria's entire northern border, and declaring an independent Kurdish state called Rojava. The result was that Turkish-backed rebel forces have control of the light blue area in the map above, on the border with Turkey, but separating the two regions controlled by the Kurds. Although Turkey prevented the Kurds from taking control of that light blue area, Turkey is still concerned that the Kurds might still link the two yellow regions by going further south. The assault on Afrin will prevent that. The assault on Afrin could be very difficult, long and bloody, according to some analysts. Afrin is heavily defended by Kurdish militias, and the terrain too rugged, covered with forests and olive groves, for easy movement of armored vehicles.... Yeni Safak (Ankara) and Arab News
*) Turkey's assault on Afrin may jeopardize the battle in Raqqa.  As we've been reporting, the battle to liberate Raqqa from the so-called Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh) is ongoing, led by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which contains some Arabs and mostly Kurds from the People's Protection Units (YPG). According to some reports, some 3,000 fighters from Afrin are taking part in the operation to expel ISIS from Raqqa. If Turkey's assault on Afrin begins, those 3,000 fighters are expected to leave Raqqa and return to defend Afrin. This would put the Raqqa operation in jeopardy. For this reason, the US has asked Turkey to delay the assault on Afrin as long as possible, so that the attack on Raqqa can be completed. Turkey sees this from the opposite direction. Turkish officials say that the Afrin assault has to take place as quickly as possible, while the Kurdish forces are still tied up in Raqqa. Jerusalem Post and Kurdistan 24
The US is using the Kurds in Raqqa because they've proven to be the most effective fighting force against ISIS. This infuriated Turkish officials, who wanted to have their Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters lead the operation. They also strongly objected to giving US weapons to the YPG, because some will ultimately end up in the hands of PKK terrorists in Turkey. Because the attack on Afrin has not yet taken place, there has been a great deal of speculation, including the following from different reports:
*Some analysts are suggesting that because of the complexity of the operation, Turkey has no intention of attacking Afrin, but is using the threat of an attack as a bluff to gain concessions.
*According to some reports, Russia had stationed troops in Afrin to prevent the Turkish operation, but withdrew them two months ago because the Russians are angry at the Kurds for working so well with the Americans.
*Another report says that Russia withdrew its troops in a tit-for-tat exchange to buy cooperation from the Turks in planned operations in Idlib later this year.
*A variation of that report says that Iran and Russia are willing to hand over Afrin to Turkey "in exchange for concessions" in other parts of Syria, especially related to Russia's de-escalation zones.
*The Kurds took control of Afrin in 2013, by driving the Syrian regime army out.
*Another report says that Russia is asking the Kurds to hand Afrin back to the Syrian regime in order to stop the attacks from Turkey.
Much of this speculation will only be resolved if and when the military operations in Afrin and Raqqa are completed.... Daily Sabah (Turkey) and Sputnik News (Moscow)