Originally published in Huffington Post Greece on Feb. 20, 2018
Entering the fourth week of the Turkish operation “Olive branch” in Afrin, northwest Syria, backed by Syrian armed forces, the Kurdish line of defense began to bend, despite the slow progress which the Turkish side attributes to the weather. The battle is difficult from a political, military and logistical point of view. The Kurdish militias have been very well prepared for this battle over the past two years. They have quality weapons such as anti-armour and a number of anti-air missiles. The large population living in such a small area is forcing Ankara to be more cautious in its air operations. But this battle has many aspects to be understood.
Ankara’s choice of Afrin is not futile. Behind it there is a number of causes, the first of which is Afrin’s significant geographic location near Alexandretta, which was always the center of communication between PKK and the Kurds of Syria, as well as an important linking point for Kurdish militias with the Assad regime through the Alawite elements of the two sides. More specifically, over the last ten years, there have been many changes in the PKK hierarchy. The result of these changes was the rise of Alawite elements in the upper ranks of its leadership. Therefore, cutting the road to Afrin becomes the main target of Ankara, as well as preventing the connection of Afrin with the Kurdish canton in the Syrian east, where the presence and support of the Americans is intense. The second major cause is related to the rupture of the “Rojava” map linking the eastern Kurdish area with the Mediterranean. Hence, it is clear why Afrin was the next goal after “Euphrates Shield”.
The “Olive Branch” operation was preceded by many meetings, telephone communications and discussions on behalf of Ankara in preparation for the battle. The United States, the largest supporter of the Syrian Kurds, first gave their blessing for this operation through the Pentagon’s statements before its inception. The visit of the Turkish Chief of Staff and the Chief of Intelligence to Moscow one day before the start of the operation was aimed at ensuring the Russian consensus which was given reluctantly, while the silence of Europe – which broke supportively only a few days ago – paved the way for the battle of Afrin.
Yes, the Afrin battle began even though many Kurdish analysts considered it impossible due to the complexity of the Syrian crisis and the relations established by the Kurdish militias with international and regional players, considering that this would prevent their targeting by Ankara. But the first Turkish bullet in Afrin has revealed a lot of facts that the intellectual Kurds of Syria should look into:
(a) Washington has used Syrian Kurdish militias as a tool to combat the organization of the Islamic State and to impose its influence on the eastern part of Syria where oil and gas are located.
(b) Russia, which has not stopped trying to get close to these militias through closed rooms of Khmeimim base, can sell them under any international or regional agreement.
(c) Europe, which supported the Kurds and militia representatives by allowing them to set up political offices in its countries, would not support them against NATO’s second largest army.
(d) Assad, with whom the Kurds collaborated against ISIS and the Syrian armed opposition, is unable to protect himself from Turkey, as was clear from the recent Russian official’s response on Moscow’s stance in a possible conflict between the Turkish army and him, that it would not be involved in a direct conflict with Ankara to protect him.
The coming months will be tough for Ankara, which will suffer great human and material losses to gain full control over Afrin and its environs. But the result is predetermined. A few thousand fighters cannot stand in front of a large Turkish army supported by some 25,000 Syrian opposition fighters. But the greatest price will be paid by the inhabitants of Afrin and the young Kurds. How long will all Kurds and Kurds of Syria pay with their blood for the decisions the warlords following the terrorist PKK who are hiding in the Qandil Mountains or live a perfect life in the European capitals?