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Beyond Afrin: How far will Turkey's operation against Kurds go?

Analysis | 2018-01-30 00:13:05
Beyond Afrin: How far will Turkey's operation against Kurds go?

On January 20, Turkey began to fulfill its many threats against the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in north-western Syria by launching Operation Olive Branch. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to remove the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) from the canton and has also threatened to target the group elsewhere across northern Syria.

Ankara believes the YPG to be the Syrian arm of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), whose ongoing militant insurgency has been responsible for many Turkish deaths over its 34 years. 

Fundamentally, the ongoing Operation Olive Branch against the YPG in Afrin is a continuation and extension of Operation Euphrates Shield - which began on August 24, 2016 and officially ended on March 29, 2017.

The objective of that operation was to both remove the Islamic State group from Syria's northwestern border with Turkey - and to prevent the Kurds from establishing a land bridge across that same 60-mile swathe of border territory IS occupied, to link the tiny isolated Afrin canton to their main territories of Jazira and Kobane.

Erdogan also stated several times early last year that Manbij was his next target. Manbij is an Arab city on the west bank of the Euphrates, captured from IS in the months before Euphrates Shield by the Arab-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (of which the YPG is a constituent part), with support from the US. 

The Americans had assured the Turks beforehand that the YPG would have minimal involvement in the operation and they would not remain in the city.

"The promises made to us over Manbij were not kept," declared Erdogan, upon launching the Afrin operation on January 20. "So nobody can object if we do what is necessary."

The US actively prevented Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters from clashing with the SDF in Manbij last March by deploying Army Rangers there.

"Later we will, step by step, clear our country up to the Iraqi border from this terror filth that is trying to besiege our country," Erdogan added.

This implies Ankara may well intend to go beyond both Afrin and Manbij to attack Syria's other Kurdish regions.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also said: "Whether Afrin, Manbij, northern Iraq or the east of the Euphrates, wherever the terrorists are situated and are posing threats is our target."

Operation Olive Branch constitutes the first Turkish invasion of Syrian Kurdish areas; earlier clashes between the Turkish-FSA forces and YPG forces during Euphrates Shield transpired outside of the Kurdish cantons. 

Conquering Afrin, in Erdogan's stated view, amounts to destroying the "western wing" of the "terror corridor" - a term he invariably uses to describe both Kurdish-controlled areas and the prospect that the YPG could eventually control the entire border.

The New Arab- Paul Iddon
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