Afrin: Response to PYD's fait accompli

MERVE ÇALHAN
Published
The Turkish military is deploying significant amounts of military hardware in Kilis, Turkey, across the border from Syria’s Afrin region, where the PKK’s Syrian wing has strong presence.
The Turkish military is deploying significant amounts of military hardware in Kilis, Turkey, across the border from Syria’s Afrin region, where the PKK’s Syrian wing has strong presence.

​Turkey's primary strategic priority in the region is to keep Afrin away from the rest of Kurdish-controlled cantons in northern Syria

While Turkey marks one year since its Operation Euphrates Shield on Aug. 24 2017, Ankara is on the verge of turning a new page with a second landmark operation to prevent a Kurdish corridor from reaching the Mediterranean Sea through northern Syria. The first, Operation Euphrates Shield, created a de-facto safe zone and acted as an anxiolytic measure in order to remove national security concerns codified under U.N. Charter Article 51.

The operation was deemed successful in military and social terms. Expanding on military outcomes, the operation cleared 2,000 square kilometers stretching from Azaz to Jarablus in northern Syria. To put it another way, the Turkish military and allied Free Syrian Army (FSA) were able to seize a significant amount of territory that was once Daesh strongholds. In addition, the operation hindered the Democratic Union Party's (PYD) People's Protection Units' (YPG) fait accompli to carve out an uninterrupted Kurdish land on Turkey's doorstep. Speaking in the social dimension, while the population of the region Euphrates Shield targeted declined dramatically and reached almost 20,000 people under Daesh's savagery, it now has increased tenfold since the liberation of the region, according to Anadolu Agency (AA).

'We might come suddenly one night'

Even though the operation ended with the above-mentioned outcomes, without seizing Afrin, north of Aleppo, a significant piece of Euphrates Shield is missing since the ultimate aim of the operation was to reach Aleppo and Manbij. Therefore, Turkish authorities still worry about YPG militants' burgeoning Kurdish corridor extending from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraqi Kurdistan to Mediterranean ports. Based on very reasonable grounds, several months ago President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned Syrian Kurds by recalling an old song: "We might come suddenly one night." His discourse gives a transpiring clue that a new military operation is approaching. To make sense of it, one must recall two prominent moves by the U.S. and its allied YPG forces to require Ankara to take measures against the PYD's terror corridor. One of the moves is based on an interview with Hadiya Yousef, who is the leading figure of the Kurdish federalism project in northern Syria. Based on Yousef's explanations, Syrian Kurds are eager for more territory in northern Syria in return for fighting for the U.S. to secure Raqqa from Daesh militants. Following the forthcoming occupation of Raqqa by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), there is a great risk of Kurdish forces heading toward the rebel-held city of Idlib, with which Turkey shares a 150-kilometer border. The second move fits well with an August 2016 TRT interview with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu who said: "We do not want a single YPG member west of the Euphrates." Nevertheless, the YPG still has a dominant presence in Manbij, which is located on the western banks of the Euphrates River. In addition, Turkish authorities stressed that Turkey has received a guarantee from the U.S. that no Kurdish forces would remain west of Euphrates after Manbij is completely cleared of Daesh.

A second Turkish landmark operation into Syria

With all this in mind, Erdoğan recently set forth the prospect of a second landmark operation into Syria while he was answering journalists' questions on his way back from Jordan last week. He said that Turkey would not allow a fait accompli for YPG forces to germinate in Afrin, which is one of the notable areas to create a Kurdish corridor to the Mediterranean. In fact, Turkey has already launched a progenitor attack and shelled Afrin, damaging PYD properties in August 2017.

Asymmetrical warfare rather than conventional bureaucracy

Afrin is a very significant district in terms of Turkey's national security because of its location near the Turkish border town of Kilis. Moreover, the PYD is already set up in Afrin, where four operating PKK camps have reportedly been detected by Turkish authorities. This means that after the Qandil Mountains in northern Iraq, Afrin is conveniently regarded as one of the major strongholds of the PKK through the PYD, its main affiliate in the region. Furthermore, with the YPG having captured the town Ain Issa east of Afrin from Daesh, the U.S. is heavily fortifying trenches and watchtowers against a possible Turkish military attack. Therefore, for Turkey to put a lid on its southern border, it needs to roll back the PYD's influence in Afrin. Keeping Afrin away from the rest of Kurdish-controlled cantons in Northern Syria is Turkey's primary strategic priority in the region. Concerning multi-dynamic improvements of the region, Turkey needs an overarching strategic belt with all political, economic and social means at all levels. It has been recently reported that Turkey is deploying artillery and M114 armored personnel carriers to the Kilis border across Afrin. In order to continue the fight with PKK-affiliated terrorist groups, the main pillars of Turkey's modus operandi should be based on asymmetrical warfare rather than conventional bureaucracy in the region.

* MA, Middle Eastern Studies, METU, Turkey

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