The Turkish Army General Staff announced the start of the operation from 5:00 pm on Saturday. Among the arguments to defend the operation, the right to “legitimate defense” and different resolutions of the UN. The General Staff has also clarified that it will respect the territorial integrity of Syria. According to the ANHA agency, close to the Kurdish organization, a Turkish detachment consisting of “ten tanks, five (light armor) and a large number of soldiers “tried to penetrate by land in Afrin to the height of the border village of Balia, but was” repelled “by local forces.
Various sources reported exchanges of fire and skirmishes at other points on the Turkish-Syrian border. Likewise, Islamist rebel factions allied with Turkey attacked Kurdish positions east of Afrin from inside Syrian territory in a battle in which there would have been at least 4 dead. The CNN-Türk chain also reported the bombing of eight Turkish F-16 fighters to the Kurdish positions in the mountains that form the border between Turkey and Syria.
For months, the Turkish Army has concentrated tanks and artillery pieces in the vicinity of the border between Turkey and Syria. Military camps have been established in at least seven points in the area and the machinery digs ditches and builds protection walls, reports the Haberturk newspaper. In the days before the ground intervention, the Turkish artillery fired numerous howitzers at the Kurdish positions in the Afrin canton, as confirmed by a YPG commander with whom could speak on Friday. The source said that the bombing had only produced “material damage”, although the command of the Turkish Armed Forces claimed to have destroyed several “shelters” of the Kurdish organization.
The beginning of the Turkish offensive has been preceded by an intense war campaign in the Turkish media and is that the operation has a high internal policy component: Erdogan has been trying for months to increase its base of support in the face of the crucial elections to which will face next year through a decidedly nationalist policy. And the fight against the PKK and its Syrian extension arouse broad consensus in Turkey. Not in vain, this week 500 people showed up at a military base in Istanbul chanting slogans such as “All Turkish is born a soldier” or “If the country is at stake, the rest does not matter” and asking to be enlisted in the military operation.
The Turkish president stressed on Saturday that the Turkish forces will not stop at the Afrin operation and pointed out that the next target would be Manbij, Syrian town that disputes Allied rebellious militias of Ankara and allied Arab and Kurdish militias of the United States. Later, Erdogan said, “we will continue step by step to the Iraqi border to clean up the area of this terrorist garbage that seeks to encircle our country.”
The spokeswoman for the US State Department, Heather Nauer, warned Turkey on Friday not to act against Afrin: “We do not want them to get involved in more violence, we want them focused on (the fight against) Daesh (Arabic acronym to refer to the Islamic State) “. But Erdogan’s answer leaves no doubt about the poor state of relations between Washington and Ankara: “Anyway, we no longer care what they say. It does not matter to us that a terrorist organization changes its name,
Turkey and the United States have been in turmoil since the Obama Administration chose the YPG as a strategic ally in Syria in order to end the Islamic State despite knowing the ties of the Kurdish-Syrian organization with the PKK, a group that Washington has cataloged as a terrorist. In just over three years, the Kurdish militia has revealed itself to be a good military election since, allied with various Arab factions, it has managed to reconquer most of the territory occupied by the jihadists.
However, this war victory has been at the cost of damaging, practically irremediably, relations with Ankara, one of Washington’s oldest allies in the Middle East. And the recent announcement that the US will train a border surveillance force of 30,000 troops, half of them Kurds, has only made the Turkish Government even angrier. “How is it possible for an ally to establish a surveillance force on the border of another NATO partner?” They ask in Ankara.
The choice of Afrin to attack the Kurdish-American alliance is not trivial: the Kurdish canton is the weakest link because it is isolated from the rest of the territory controlled by the YPG and surrounded by Turkey to the north and west and by rebel forces favorable to Ankara to the east and to the south, areas in which the Turkish Army also has deployed some 2,000 troops from Operation Euphrates Shield and its rapid intervention in the Syrian province of Idlib . There is also no US presence in Afrin, although according to the Turkish intelligence services, US arms have arrived at the YPG forces deployed there.
All in all, the Turkish military operation is very risky. The Turkish Social Democratic opposition, which initially supports the attack, has asked to explore diplomatic channels and ensure that Russia allows the participation of Turkish aviation in the military campaign (the Damascus Government warned that it could shoot down Turkish aircraft if they violated its airspace but, today, whoever commands in the Syrian skies is Moscow).
A security expert consulted by this journalist explained that without support from aerial bombings, Turkey will have very difficult to advance. Even with the support of aviation, Afrin could become a trap for the Turks as it is “hostile territory”, with an important density of urban population (more than 170,000 inhabitants) and where there could be numerous civilian casualties. According to Kurdish analyst Mutlu Civiroglu,