Over the course of just 10 days, the balance of power in Syria has been shaped and reshaped. On Oct. 9, Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring to remove the PKK terrorist organization and its Syrian offshoot, the People's Protection Units (YPG), from northern Syria.
Here’s what the Syrian theater looked like before and during that operation:
Prior to the Turkish incursion, the United States controlled the entire territory between the Euphrates River and the Syria-Iraq border, along with Manbij province on the Euphrates’ western bank. The U.S.-controlled area reached all the way down to Raqqa and Deir el-Zour to the south. Washington managed those territories through its PKK/YPG proxies. In most maps of Syria, that area is marked in yellow.
Turkey and the Syrian National Army (SNA), in turn, were in charge of Afrin, a former PKK/YPG stronghold, and the zone between Jarablus and al-Bab – former Daesh territories. Since 2016, no less than 300,000 Syrian refugees have relocated to those liberated areas. Idlib, too, was under the control of Syrian opposition groups with close ties to Turkey under a deconflicting agreement with Russia. That area is marked in green.
Finally, Bashar Assad’s regime held onto southern Syria, together with Latakia and Aleppo in the north. That area was painted red. Backed by Russia and Iran, Damascus took back Aleppo before turning its attention to Idlib. The regime’s game plan was to target opposition-held areas, carefully avoiding territories controlled by the American-backed PKK/YPG militants. To be clear, the regime had attempted to attack the “yellow” zone before having to retreat due to U.S. aerial bombardment. Under U.S. protection, the PKK/YPG sought to carve out a statelet in Syria for itself.
Against the backdrop of those developments on the ground, Turkey, Russia and Iran had engaged in lengthy diplomatic negotiations and launched a process to draft Syria’s new constitution. Ahead of that historic meeting, which would shape the conflict-ridden country’s future, Turkey made a move to tilt the balance of power to its advantage – as well as neutralize national security threats, address the terror threat emanating from northern Syria, facilitate the repatriation of Syrian refugees and preserve its neighbor’s territorial integrity.
On Oct. 9, the Turks launched Operation Peace Spring in the 120-kilometer stretch between Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn, with the intention to control a 30-kilometer-deep area. The SNA, with Turkish support, swiftly reached the strategically important M4 highway – a notable accomplishment. When the moderate opposition seized control of Tal Abyad’s town center and entered downtown Ras al-Ayn, the United States requested a 120-hour pause to facilitate the evacuation of terrorists from the safe zone. Thus Ankara struck a deal with Washington. Before the clock ran out, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Sochi to sign another historic agreement, which related to all areas outside the Tal Abyad to Ras al-Ayn stretch.
Over the course of 12 days, the situation in Syria changed completely. In northeastern Syria, the Turkish-backed SNA seized control of a 4,000 square kilometer area between Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn. This area, painted green, has been guaranteed under the Turkey-U.S. agreement, which removed PKK/YPG terrorists from this area. Meanwhile, Turkey and Russia agreed to push all PKK/YPG elements some 30 kilometers away from the Turkey-Syria border in remaining parts of northeastern Syria. When the 150-hour deadline expires, Russian-backed regime forces will be in charge of those areas – which will be painted red. The same goes for Manbij and Tal Rifaat, both of which are located to the west of the Euphrates River.
In light of the Turkish incursion and a series of bilateral agreements, the area under the PKK/YPG terrorist organization’s control has shrunk and been pushed away from the Turkey-Syria border. What lies ahead for this yellow area on the map of Syria?
The United States wants to keep the oil-rich Deir el-Zour region under its control in an attempt to ensure Israel’s safety. My sources in Ankara, however, say that the PKK/YPG terrorists won’t be able to hold onto that territory either. Moving forward, it will not be surprising for the Russian-backed regime forces to target PKK/YPG militants.
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