The last hours before the fall of Afrin


Originally published in the Greek weekly newspaper “Paraskinio”, issue 622, p. 39 on Mar. 17, 2018

Nearly two months after the start of the Turkish operation backed by Syrian opposition forces against the Kurdish militias in Afrin in northwest Syria, the extent of the progress of Ankara’s allies against them was made clear according to the map of the region. Reports from the interior of Afrin confirm that the Turkish army is only a mile from the north and two from the south from the city. The “open box” system used by the Turkish army allowed it to destroy all Kurdish lines of defense around the cities of Rajo, Gendres and Hadid. Under the tacit consent of both Europe and the US on the one hand and Russia on the other, the fall of the city is now a matter of time.

Washington, the official sponsor of the Kurdish militias in Syria, backing them with weapons, equipment and money used in the fight against ISIS, is now standing idle in front of their defeat. The recent fierce meetings between Tillerson and Turkish officials confirm that Washington has no objection to this operation, which has not even been discussed between the two sides, while their focus is on the future of the city of Manbij west of the Euphrates river under control of Kurdish militias. A diplomatic source asserts that Tillerson promised to remove these paramilitary groups from Manbij and his performance in the management of the city’s Arabs. In a long discussion about the presence of Kurdish militias in northeastern Syria, Tillerson asked for more time to try to reach a solution that would satisfy both sides. Europe, on the other hand, which continued to fight for the rights of the Kurds and provided them with material support, did not react much more than individual statements. As is clear from the telephone conversations between European and Turkish officials, Europe is not in fact opposed to the “Olive Branch” operation.

Moscow has tried to delay the operation by offering the region’s handing over to Assad militias and increasing its military presence, ensuring the elimination of threat to Turkish national security, a subject widely discussed between the Russian and Turkish presidents during Putin’s recent visit to Ankara. Turkey rejected the proposal, which of course was not made by Moscow’s love for the Kurds, but it was an attempt to increase its profits in Syria. Moscow has no close ties with the Kurds of Syria, so it sought to use this “favor” to drag them from the influence of the US. It also does not trust the Turkish presence in the region.

A local source from Afrin confirms that senior Kurdish officials have left the city through the Assad region to Halab and then to eastern Syria. More specifically, it is Interior Minister Hassan Perm and Justice Minister Said Gbari. This information confirms that the fate of the city is prescribed. Of course, intensive talks are being held between Turkish and Russian officials on a final settlement for the region so that  in the city of Afrin a ceasefire could be applied for a certain period of time during which the city was evacuated from the armed elements of Kurdish militias and open a passage for them through the Assad-controlled militias to eastern Syria after the arrival of the Turkish forces. This will not threaten the lives of thousands of civilians and Turkey will take control of the city peacefully. This proposal is under consultation, but it is certain that Erdoğan, before the presidential and parliamentary elections, will not give away the card of triumph in Afrin for any reason.

With the closure of this page, the question arises about the future of the Kurdish armed forces in eastern Syria. Turkey, boasting victories in the “Euphrates’ Shield” and the “Olive Branch”, raises new claims in eastern Syria. Washington is suspicious of the growing influence of Iran and Russia in Syria and is not ready for the time being to lose Ankara in spite of the recent Congress decision to reduce US troops of the Insirlik base. The summer is expected to be warm for the Kurdish militias and will be the subject of negotiations between the Americans and the Turks, who are obviously not more valuable than Iraqi Kurds, who were also abandoned by Washington at the end of last year.

* Aleppo