Syria: Pro-government forces enter Afrin

Syria civil war has become alarming with the entry of Syrian pro-regime forces in Afrin which has been perceived as a major and sharp provocation by the Turkish forces. Turkey has responded with an immediate artillery fire on the envoy of 20 vehicles with heavy weapons with Syrian flags and chanting pro-government slogans. Turkish warning shots made the envoy retreat by 10 km. The shelling is seen as a major escalation point which will intensify the situation further.

Turkey has also warned a direct confrontation with the governmental forces if they entered Afrin in support of YPG which Turkey considers as a terrorist offshoot of the banned PKK Kurdistan Worker’s Party.  The Syrian Kurds have denied any such links with PKK. US has completely rejected Turkish portrayal of YPG and considers the latter as a significant ally in its fight against ISIL. Since the launch of Operation Olive Branch by Turkey in January, about 205 Syrian rebels and 219 Kurd militiamen along with 112 civilians have lost their lives.

The Syrian government has, however, described the Turkish attack and advance on Syrian soils as an apparent attack on the Syrian sovereignty. The recent turn of events may lead to an escalation of Turkish offensive against YPG.

Turkey has been a part of US-led coalition forces against ISIL but has never backed the presence of Syrian Democratic Forces and has always attempted to stop its advance along the northern border of Syria. Turkey in 2016 had backed the Syrian rebel forces to push out ISIS fighters from the main towns of Jarablus and al-Bab but also SDF from proceeding towards Afrin. US had stepped-in to persuade Turkey not to take the city of Manbij by force from SDF and had made YPG withdraw towards the east of River Euphrates. The recent crisis began when US announced to build a border security force of 30,000 personnel for which it will train half of SDF cadres. This was to ensure there is no infiltration by ISIS from across both Turkish and Iraqi borders. It was this announcement which changed the dynamics for Turkey who labelled the proposed force to be a terror army.

Afrin is significant in many ways as it lies between Manbij and other SDF controlled areas by a small territory which is held by Turkish-supported rebels. In a condition of fall of both Afrin and Manbij, the 200km continuous stretch of Syria’s northern border will come under the control of Turkish-backed fighters. Moreover, the airspace of Afrin in under Russian control and any assault via air-strikes which occurred was with the permission of Russia. This fragile situation has the capacity to strengthen the ties between Ankara and Moscow but may bring interests of US and Turkey into direct conflict.

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