Turkey attacks Afrin
The Kurd-dominated region of Afrin in northern Syria is currently targeted by Turkish air raids. Turkey has also announced that it is going to attack the city of Manbij.
The first planes that initiated the attacks on the Kurdish militias of People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) appeared over the Afrin canton on January 20st 2018. A day later the Turkish troops crossed the Syrian border. Bombs and artillery shells are still raining down on the civilian population.
The number of victims is still unconfirmed. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on January 21st that Turkey and its allies had killed six people while YPG – two. The latter organization informs that there have been twelve victims on YPG’s side (six members of the militia and six civilians) and that they have killed four soldiers from the Turkish side and ten members of allied militias. Three people were supposed to had been killed in Turkey after a punitive expedition.
Five out of thirty kilometers
The operation was perversely called “an olive branch”. It is a reference to, on the one hand, a symbol of peace and, on the other, to the famous cultivation of the Afrin region. The aim of the attack was to create a 30-kilometer long security zone. So far, however, the Turkish army annexed only about five kilometers of land in Syria. Due to conflicting reports, it is unclear whether they occupy any towns. The Afrin canton is separated from the Kurd-controlled territories by the Euphrates Shield and the regime’s forces.
The Kurdish militias supposedly called their operation “a wolf hunting” which, in turn, is a reference to the extreme nationalist Turkish organisation Grey Wolves. YPG has repeatedly stressed that its enemy is the “Turkish fascism”.
The Kurdish militias are the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and are the key partner of the international coalition with the United States as the main player. It was SDF who conquered Raqqua, the “capital” of ISIS and now are fighting it in Deir-az-Zaur province in the eastern part of the country. Despite that, the fighters in Afrin did not receive the coalition’s support. Just before the Turkish invasion on Afrin, when the situation was already tense, the spokesman for the U.S. Army told the “Region” website that “Afrin is outside the area of coalition’s activity”.
On January 21st, Turkey’s president – Recep Erdoğan said during the meeting in Bursa with members of the ruling party, AKP, the that the operation should be concluded in “a very short time” and its goal is to “give back the city to its rightful owners – our Syrian brothers”. Erdogan was referring to 3.5 million Syrians currently residing in Turkey. The attack on the Afrin is supposed to help in realizing that goal because the Turkish army wants to eliminate “the terrorist nests”. Officially, the Turkish armed forces announced that they fight the Kurdish militias (which they treat as a splinter group of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) and ISIS which, however, is not present in this region.
The tanks appeared near Manbij
Turkey announces that it is going to occupy the city of Manbij which is located behind the east bank of Euphrates – a border which it had previously set as one that will not be passed. For now, however, no steps have been made in this direction.
The city has been reclaimed by the SDF from the rule of ISIS in mid-2016. Around 15 kilometers north of Manbij there is a front line of the Turkish army and militias supporting it.
Five days before the start of “the olive branch” operation the situation on the front line in the vicinity of Manbij was stable. Exchanges of fire occurred only occasionally. Shiya Gerde, a Kurdish commander, reported shelling with a 120 millimeters caliber artillery. Turkish base is visible to the naked eye within two, three kilometers from the SDF trenches.
Mohammed Sheh Abed has been serving in SDF for three months. He is stationed at an adjacent position and observes the developments behind the front-line through binoculars. He claims that the situation is stable. The only change that was observed was the emergence of six tanks shortly after the new year.
“They brought them on carriages and immediately hid in the base”, he says.
People in Manjib, however, didn’t feel tension.
“We are not worried about the front line. Behind it are our brothers, so there is nothing to fear”, said one of the people living at the cemetery in the center of the city which was ravaged by ISIS. He meant the remaining troops of the Free Syrian Army, which have been supported by Turkey.
Urgent meeting of the United Nations
On January 21st, Rex Tillerson, the U.S. Secretary of State, held a conversation with his counterparts from Russia and Turkey. He expressed concern about the situation in north-eastern Syria and the fate of the civilian population. He called on Turkey to ensure that their operation is carried out in a limited scope and in the shortest possible time.
“We call all parties to remain focused on the key goal, which is to defeat the ISIS”, said Tillerson.
On the same day, France urged the UN to call an immediate meeting on the situation in Syria. A session of the Security Council is due on Monday, January 22nd. Apart from the situation in Afrin, its agenda includes discussing the offensive of the regime on the Idlib province and the siege of Ghouta.
The war in Syria, which has been ongoing since 2011, has claimed the lives of at least 400,000 people. 11 million people, half of the country’s pre-war population, had to leave their homes.