Turkey’s military operation in Afrin has entered its second week, and despite the fact that the “Free Army” failed to achieve sufficient results on the ground, it placed the (Kurdish) “People’s Protection Units” in front of two options, either to hand over the whole area to the Syrian regime or confrontation that would be met with Turkey’s insistence to continue the battle which is allied by a number of international forces.
The past a few days witnessed political and military advances, manifested by an American-Russian support for the Turkish military operations, away from the “Units’” expectations, which relied on the support of US as a spearhead that is supposed to defend them in different situations; this was faced with a ten-axes battle, through which the Turkish and “Free Army” are tightening the noose in a first step that resembles the former “Euphrates Shield” operation.
On January 22, Jim Mattis the United States Secretary of Defense, said that Turkey has informed US prior to its air raid against the Units in Syria, pointing out that Washington is communicating with Ankara on how to move further.
“Turkey was candid (. . .) They warned us before they launched the aircraft they were going to do it, in consultation with us. And we are working now on the way ahead. We’ll work this out.”
The “Units” officially declared that Russia has disappointed them and prevented Assad’s forces from advancing to confront the “Free Army” and Turkey in the area.
Triggered by these changes, the “Units,” considering the Turkish operations as an “occupation,” headed to the Syrian regime and invited it to enter the area to repel the onslaught. This came after announcing the arrival of the regime’s reinforcement from the eastern area passing through areas under its control in the eastern countryside of Aleppo.
Would the Syrian Regime Enter Afrin?
In a statement on January 25, “Self-Management in Afrin,” with which the Units are affiliated, said: We call on the Syrian state to carry out its sovereign duties towards Afrin and protect its borders with Turkey from attacks by the Turkish occupier”.
“The [state] has not yet performed its duty, even though it has been officially announced, and did not spread its Syrian armed forces to secure the borders of the area of Afrin,” the Self-management added, in the statement.
A few days prior to the military operation, there have been talks about handing the area over to the Syrian regime. Back then, analysts relied on the consideration that deemed the area as open to the regime’s areas of control, in addition to the “Units” refusal to allow Turkey’s admission, preferring the Syrian regime against the backdrop of enmity with Turkey that has been going on for years.
To the day, Afrin’s military future swings between two poles, either a “serious” decision on the Turkish part to go deep into the area or allowing the Syrian regime to control it under an agreement with the Kurdish forces.
According to Mahmut Osman, a Turkish political analyst, the thought of handing Afrin over to the Syrian regime is a “pure Iranian” idea, through which Iran is attempting to hinder the Turkish progress, considering that the countries are trying to draw their influence areas in Syria with the Syrian cause approaching a political solution.
He told Enab Baladi that the Turks have already taken their measures concerning such a potential, as Turkey cannot enter into a military operation and then another regional party comes and pulls the rug out from under it.
The military operations are taking a slow tempo on the ground, for according to the set plan, the Turkish army is seeking to cordon the area, which will place the “Units” under pressure, to reach a point where they would decide to exist the area according to an agreement or to surrender.
Osman likened the operations of the Turkish army to the former battles of the “Euphrates Shield,” which included “a long-term approach and the depletion of the opponent, away from rapid progress.”
“Cleaning Afrin” operation, as he called it, is a Turkish strategic demand, which Turkey deems as an emergency not as a goal.
In a former interview with Enab Baladi, the military analyst and Staff Colonel Khaled al-Mutlaq said that neither Turkey nor other parties would enter Afrin; rather, it will be cordoned to pressure the “Units” to withdrew from the area according to an agreement that might include surrendering regions under the “Free Army,” similar to the way through which Aleppo has been handed over.
Al-Mutlaq told Enab Baladi that Afrin Operation’s end result would be connecting the areas of the “Euphrates Shield” with rural Idlib and Aleppo, adding that the battle, in short, is about cutting all the supply roads to Afrin.
Manbij is Now Part of the Plan
While Turkish forces began moving through Afrin axis, Manbij became part of the Turkish plan, through statements in which the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, assured that the Turkish army’s ultimate goal is Manbij and proceeding as far as the Iraqi borders.
Three military sources from the “Free Army” told Enab Baladi that the military factions are getting ready to start the battle towards the city, amidst current military preparations.
The sources pointed out that the Russian Reconciliation Center in the village of Arima, in the Eastern countryside of al-Bab, has left the area without a confirmation about its destination.
According to the analyst Osman, the “Units” will attempt to hold on until the last moment in Afrin to trade it for Manbij, the thing they will do their best to realize on the ground.
He explained: “Afrin’s issue ended for all the parties after the green light has been given by the international forces; however, Manbij and beyond is a point of dispute, as the Turks did not get the consent of all players.”
Mustafa Abu Haidar, a leader in the “Free Army,” pointed out that the information promoted by the “Units,” in the last a few days, about handing Afrin over to the Syrian regime “are media related information only,” for the “Unites” are allies to more than one international party at odds with the Syrian regime.
He believes that the “Units” would not give up the area easily or without fighting and the current circumstances point to “fierce battles” that await the Turkey backed “Free Army” in the upcoming days.
To the day, the “Free Army’s” factions have controlled the following towns and villages: Shankal, hai oglu, Arsaw, Korni, beli koy, Zahran, Shaikh Kharouz, northern Afrin, Admanli, Bilal Koy, Omar Aushkai, hills surrounding the Rajo village, northwest of Afrin, the village of Hamam from the Jandris axis, in addition to Shaikh, Basi, Marsou and Haftar villages in the Bulbul area, in addition to Biski village at the Rajo axis.