Who Benefits from the Operation in Afrin?

Translated by Ollie Richardson



On January 20th, 2018, the Armed Forces of Turkey begun operation “Olive Branch” directed against the Kurdish militia in the Afrin Canton. Military operations started with the shelling of the city of the same name — the administrative center of the canton. According to media reports, the land part of the operation will come later. Why has this operation been realised and what consequences can it have?

Despite loud statements, the situation with the introduction of Turkish troops in the administrative region of Afrin is a logical continuation of the creation of the “four security zones” on the territory of Syria. After the Syrian army and its allies have dealt with the main forces of ISIS, the Kurds – occupying several important territories with large cities, such as Afrin and Raqqa – became one of the main opposition forces in the country.

In this way the actions of the Armed Forces of Turkey look like the implementation of a policy of returning Syrian territories back under the control of the official government. With the purpose of agreeing on how the military operation will be carried out, the chief of the General Staff of Turkey Hulusi Akar and the chief of Turkish intelligence Hakan Fidan arrived in Moscow on January 18th, where have held negotiations with the Russian side consisting of the Minister of Defence Sergey Shoigu and the chief of the General Staff of Russia Valery Gerasimov.

After the end of negotiations and preparation, on January 20th the Armed Forces of Turkey begun operation “Olive Branch”, however, after shelling the positions of Kurds, the expected land phase of the operation didn’t follow. It became known a bit later that the official representative of the PYD (the Democratic Union Party created by the Syrian Kurds), Aldar Khalil reported: “Yesterday Russia asked us to transfer a part of the territory to the Syrian regime in exchange for the prevention of Turkish attacks on Afrin. We refused, we won’t hand over our territories. We will protect them all”.

Thus, Russia a day before the beginning of the attack of the Turkish Air Force proposed to the Afrin enclave to transfer all administrative management to the Syrian government, in exchange for this Russia promised to dissuade Turkey from carrying out the military operation.

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The refusal of the Kurds to make a deal with the Syrian government resulted in the removal of the Russian troops from the possible contact line. If an agreement with the PYD and YPG (People’s Protection Units, organized by the Kurds) isn’t reached, then in the near future it is worth expecting the beginning of the land phase of the operation.

It is worth separately noting the reaction of the government in Damascus towards the actions of the Turkish Armed Forces. Like in similar instances, the Syrian government officially declares that the actions of the Turks are a violation of its borders and sovereignty and must immediately be stopped. However, no actions followed. Therefore, this suggests that here Damascus plays the role of the “good cop” by offering the Kurds (and earlier, other formations) to agree peacefully and officially protesting against the actions of Ankara. Whereas Turkey plays the role of the “bad cop”, who, should negotiations fail, resolves the problem by force.

In the situation that developed around Afrin we see a gradual, planned liberation of the Syrian territory from all forces that are beyond the control of the authorities. The actions of Turkey are beneficial for Damascus since the canton occupied by enemies will be liberated. They are beneficial for Russia since its successful campaign in Syria continues. They are beneficial for Iran because, after Afrin, the chance is high that the cleansing of the central and eastern border regions (where there is an important hub for the supply of energy resources to Europe — the city of Raqqa) will follow. And, of course, these actions are beneficial for Turkey, which actively restores its authority in the region and also solves the problem with the Kurds at the borders. The only side that doesn’t benefit from such events is the Kurds and the US, which made plans concerning cooperation with the former. Nevertheless, Washington is unlikely to take the risk of helping the Kurds in this situation. They showed their position during the conflict over Iraqi Kurdistan, having refused to interfere in it.

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