Syria: Turkey Begins Military Operation against US-Allied Kurds in Afrin

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Reuters reports that on Friday, Turkey began cross-border shelling of the Kurdish-majority Afrin canton in northern Syria. There are also reports of busloads of Sunni Arab guerrillas of the rebel Free Syrian Army, who had been sheltered in Turkey, being sent into Afrin.

The region is dominated by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a leftist militia that serves as the paramilitary of the Democratic Union Party, which believes in running society through decentralized socialist cooperatives.

The Turkish attack comes after an announcement early this week by the Trump administration that it would arm and train a 30,000-man strong Kurdish force to police Syria’s borders and make sure ISIL did not reemerge. Turkey is engaged in a violent campaign in neighboring eastern Anatolia against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a separatist guerrilla group that has engaged in widespread attacks against Turkish police and army. Ankara sees the Syrian Kurds as allies of the PKK, but its members and the US government both deny that allegation.


Although Turkey calls the YPG in Afrin terrorists, it does not appear to be alleging that they have conducted any particular terrorist attack on Turkish soil. Turkey was hit several times by ISIL terrorist attacks, and the YPG has been the only effective land-based military against ISIL. So you could argue that Turkey should be grateful to the YPG for ending ISIL’s territorial state, which had plotted out the blowing up of Istanbul and other cities.

In fact, the Turkish authorities never seemed very interested in rolling up ISIL in Syria. Some of their animus against the YPG comes from its having also fought Turkey-backed Arab Muslim guerrillas of a Muslim fundamentalist bent in Syria. Turkey may be hoping by this attack on Afrin to strengthen the position of the latter in northern Syria.

A few hundred Russian military observers based in Afrin were alleged by the Turkish press to have been withdrawn, though this report was denied by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. The reports emerged after Thursday’s consultations in Moscow between Turkish chief of staff Hulusi Akar and Russian chief of staff Valery Gerasimov.

No Turkish troops are alleged to have invaded, and the shelling is artillery rather than from the air. On Friday the Syrian government had pledged to shoot down any Turkish fighter jets over Syrian territory. Although Afrin is at the moment autonomous and run by the Kurds, the Syrian government is hoping to bring the latter back under Damascus, and may be playing for a Baath-Kurdish alliance against Turkey and the remnants of the rebel guerrilla fighters.

YPG fighters based further east, in Jazira (Turkish Cezire), had been key to taking back Raqqa province from ISIL, and Kurds likely feel betrayed that the US hasn’t stood up for them more against Turkey. The US State Department basically said the Turkish move is unhelpful.

It is not clear whether the erratic Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan is grandstanding with these artillery strikes into Afrin or whether this is the beginning of an attempt by Turkey to occupy and/or ethnically cleanse the Afrin Kurdish enclave.


Related video:

CGTN: “Turkey steps up shelling as invasion of Syria”

8 Responses

  1. The irony here is that the CIA-backed Free Syrian Army may soon be fighting the Pentagon-backed YPG.

    The other irony is that ISIS had supplied Turkish commercial purchasers with oil shipments sold at a discount and, also, there were suspicions that Turkish intelligence agencies were assisting ISIS due to the fact ISIS was battling the Kurds in Rojava.

  2. On Jan. 18, you wrote that Rex Tillerson is committed to forever war in Syria. It sounds like Erdogan is supporting Tillerson’s policy of forever war. I am sure that the defense contractors are very pleased with Erdogan.

  3. Are the 30,000 border security forces supported by the US ready to fight? It appears that the border is under attack. Or do they only guard the other border? Is the US now fighting a proxy war with a NATO Member State? This sounds like another expensive quagmire. Hope the women and children can escape unharmed.

  4. I suppose you know, professor, that the neo-Ottomanists consider this area and Western Iraq theirs. THey and the “Eurasianists” are more powerful in Anjara after the coup, according to Turkish analysts I read. My sense is that I don’t know how much this is show and how much, with all the mosques praying today for Conquest, this is game on.
    He’s about as nuts as Trump, but without any of the brakes that still sort of occasionally work in the US

  5. I assume ISIL comes from Irak and not from Turkey. The I wonder are the US really training 30000 soldiers to guard a border which mainly consists of desert, and which moreover lies largely outside the territory of the Kurds in Syria (Royava)? Or are there other motives? Who can shine a light on this.

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