After the casualties inflicted by this military adventure it appears there is to be no peace nor safety for the civilian population in northern Syria
Operation (Orwellian) Olive Branch
Following Turkey’s bloody entrance to Afrin city, March 18, 2018, after 58 days bombing the region’s civilian population as well as its local and international defenders and simultaneous with its jihadist militias, the so called Turkish Free Syrian Army (TFSA) beginning to loot (“…the town itself, which was predominantly Kurdish, was looted after Turkish Forces moved in.”) and destroy in equal measure, and while the appropriately-red Turkish flag flew over the city for the first time – after 58 days of NATO’s second largest and best equipped army with air support provided by Turkish F-16 fighter jets, T129 assault helicopters and drones, after all this and simultaneous with the images of the aftermath circulating on social media: the most obvious question of all must have been, and still remains…where to from here?
Where to from here, with Turkish nationalist feeling reported to be in overdrive (“Initial comments from Ankara suggest politicians are looking to ride the wave of nationalism and maximise the political gain from the military success in Afrin by promising more offensives in other parts of Syria and even Iraq…”) and, more worryingly now, the awareness that war has become an important component in President Erdoğans crucial planning for the upcoming presidential elections (November 2019) which are getting closer…
“Not since Turkey’s troops entered Cyprus in July 1974 has there been anything quite like it, with some Turks seeing the Afrin operation as a revival of the lost glories of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East.” (Middle East Eye)
A political cynicism from the master and a petty nationalism that won’t be bothered by ethnic cleansing, torture, and more war, including even the so-called (T)FSA fighting over the goods looted from Kurdish homes; with clashes reported taking place between the previously US-backed al-Hamza Division and the Ahrar al-Sharqiya group in Afrin, and extended to areas controlled by ‘Euphrates Shield forces’, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
Where to from here – Manbij, Ayn al-Arab, Tel Abyad, Ras al-Ain and Qamishli?
Sadly, after the casualties inflicted by this military adventure it appears there is to be no peace nor safety for the civilian population in northern Syria. Erdoğan was quoted in Reuters on March 19:
“By controlling Afrin city center yesterday, we have passed the most important step of the Olive Branch operation,” (he) told a gathering of judges and prosecutors in Ankara.
“After this, we will continue now to Manbij, Ayn al-Arab, Tel Abyad, Ras al-Ain and Qamishli until this corridor is fully removed,” he said, referring to a string of towns along Syria’s border region with Turkey.”
Heading east from Afrin means the now belligerent Turkish war machine, including its estimated 10,000 Islamist foot-soldiers, fears no obstacles to the carving of its own small Ottoman enterprise out of the tragedy of Syria. With Erdoğan’s threats now stretching nearly 300 miles towards Qamishli, over 400 kilometers of Kurdish controlled territory, must of it liberated from either the Assads’ oppressive regime against the Kurds or the unspeakable atrocities of ISIS/Daesh.
Not without complications though, and dangers, hopefully. “Expanding Turkey’s military campaign into the much larger Kurdish-held territory further east would risk confronting troops of a NATO ally, the United States, that are deployed alongside a YPG-dominated force in northern Syria.”
Manbij, Qamislo, Ayn al Arab and Rasulayn?
Other reports seem to echo the above. TRT World (the pro-Turkish outlet based in Istanbul – “One of TRT World’s aims is to make the public in other nations more amenable to the Turkish regime”)
‘”Turkey’s military operations in Syria will continue further east until several towns stretching hundreds of kilometres towards the Iraqi border have been cleared of the PKK-affiliated YPG terror group,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Monday.
Speaking at the Bestepe Culture and Congress Center in the presidential complex in capital Ankara a day after the Turkish military and Free Syrian Army cleared the northwestern Syrian town of Afrin, Erdoğan said Turkey would also clear the other YPG-held regions.
“We have eliminated most of the terror corridor in the region. Now we will continue this process until we entirely eliminate this corridor, including Manbij, Qamislo, Ayn al Arab and Rasulayn,” he said.’
Operation Euphrates Shield
What’s new, you might ask, remembering Turkey’s previous incursion into its neighbour’s territory uninvited? Remembering that the city of Jarabulus was captured by Turkish-backed forces on the 24 August, 2016, though in recognition of the bitter battles fought by the Kurdish YPG/YPJ at the same time against ISIS/DAESH, “captured” might be too strong a word:
In Patrick Cockburn’s September 9, 2016 interview published in The Independent an ISIS/ISIL/Daesh fighter claimed that “when the Turkish army entered Jarabulus, I talked to my friends who were there. Actually, Isis didn’t leave Jarabulus; they just shaved off their beards.”
Likewise Al-Bab, (40 kilometres (25 miles) northeast of Aleppo and 30 kilometres (19 miles) south of the Turkish border where the military campaign ran from 6 November, 2016 to the 23 February, 2017) was also completely taken over by Turkish forces on 23 February, 2017.
Thus, despite Turkey’s failure to capture Manbij, the AKP regime has succeeded in controlling a significant portion of Northern Syria, which we understand now to have been merely Turkey “getting its foot in the door”.
Manbij: Shoot-out at the OK Corral?
Manbij, the next main YPG-held town east of Afrin becomes of particular significance as there is a US military presence there.
The question here is whether the US troops stationed there and their masters at home fear the famous “Ottoman slap” promised to the U.S. Special Forces soldiers serving alongside the Syrian Kurds by President Erdoğan?
So far these 2000 troops still face Turkey as a potential roadblock that it must remove if it is to use its superior technology against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) stationed there as it did to such effect in Afrin.
Talks between Turkey and the Trump regime appear to be ongoing. It even appeared recently that, former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson after his visit to Ankara seems to have agreed to allow Turkey to move into Manbij; Tillerson of course, has since lost his job.
So there are dangers. Whether – as seen in the ‘dirty deal’ Russia worked out making Turkey’s assault on Afrin possible (“Moscow was also apparently restraining Assad’s planes from intervening, while blocking any attempt by Damascus at a rapprochement with the Kurds…”) – the same will happen in Manbij, we wait to see…
Speaking in Ankara, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, current Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs said:
“We said we reached an understanding, which is mainly that Syria’s Manbij and the east of the Euphrates be stabilized. We said we reached an understanding, not an agreement…
Manbij is, of course, not enough. First, the YPG will leave and the people of Manbij will govern it. The security of the area will be ensured. We will apply the Manbij model to other areas controlled by the YPG as well.”
Middle East Eye also says “Turkey’s capture of Afrin is a signal that with Russian acquiescence, it can now crush other Syrian Kurdish enclaves – but first it must eliminate the US presence in Manbij…”
…And the Hurriyet Daily News quoting Erdoğan:
‘“We have completed an important stage of ‘Operation Olive Branch’ by taking control of the city center of Afrin. We will continue this process until we have entirely abolished the corridor through Manbij, Ayn al-Arab, Tel-Abyad, Ras al-Ayn and Qamishli,” Erdoğan stressed…’
Pointing out that: “…Apart from Manbij, all these spots are located east of the Euphrates river, where the YPG has its own headquarters and military deployments.”
Will the Americans make a deal and abandon their allies, the Kurds, once again?
“The danger has always been that Washington will go from one extreme to the other — from tough talk of sanctions and a brief visa ban in December to a policy of total appeasement, as Erdoğan threatens to dismantle whatever remains of Turkish democracy….The ultimate goal should be ushering in Turkey’s return to democracy – a key component of which would have to be the resumption of Turkish-Kurdish peace accord.” (Washington Post)
Beyond Manbij: Sinjar and the Road to Iraq?
Erdoğan also stated that northern Iraq is now on Turkey’s radar, with a direct reference to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) located in Iraq’s Sinjar province since they drove ISIS/Daesh from the region in late 2015.
‘“We’ll continue this process until we completely abolish this corridor,” Erdoğan said. “One night, we could suddenly enter Sinjar.”’ (France 24)
For a long time the PKK, President Erdoğan’s committed nemesis, has also been based in Iraq’s Qandil mountain range, near the border with Iran. Erdoğan said a “second Qandil” was being established in Sinjar, further west.
He said Turkey had told the Iraqi government to deal with the threat.
“Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim was holding talks with the Iraqi government, Erdoğan added “However, if this issue is prolonged much longer there will be an Olive Branch there too.”
“We have told the central [Iraqi] government that the PKK is establishing a new headquarters in Sinjar. ‘If you can deal with it, you handle it. But if you cannot we will suddenly enter Sinjar one night and clear this region of terrorists. If we are friends, you will make it easy for us. We told all this to previous Iraqi central governments as well. If things are further prolonged then another ‘Operation Olive Branch’ will be carried out there,” he said.’
However on March 23:
“The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has announced it will be withdrawing its forces from the northern Iraqi area of Sinjar, although local pro-PKK security services will remain in place.”
By March 26 and with differing interpretations in the various media: “’The 15th brigade of the army was deployed with heavy weaponry in the Sinjar district and the Sinun town,’ said Iraq’s Brig Gen Yahya Rasool.”
Another point of view was that of Renad Mansour, senior research fellow at London’s Chatham House:
“Turkey and Iraq seem to be in an agreement over Sinjar, they both have similar interests — to rule the area,” he said.
Ahmet Kasim Han, a Professor of International Relations at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University, said the possibility of Ankara and Washington agreeing a deal on Manbij was a viable option.
Han said he could see the Americans agreeing to Turkey’s terms that all YPG forces be removed from Manbij on the proviso that Ankara fully cooperates in other areas and specifically ends any plans to hit the PYD/YPG east of the Euphrates River.
Mustafa Guvenc, an expert at the Turkey-based Centre of Strategic Research on the Arab World, told Middle East Eye that Turkey’s military operations would continue after its Afrin victory and that all other players in Syria could no longer ignore Ankara.
“Turkey’s pre-emptive policy at striking threats where it sees them has proved successful. Turkey didn’t ask for anyone’s permission to carry out the Afrin operation,” he said.
“It carried out the operation alone because it was betrayed by Nato and the anti-terror coalition,” said Guvenc. “From here, Turkey will launch operations in Manbij, then Raqqa, and also in Iraq.”
A New Ottoman Empire?
“We shall, [God willing] take Afrin, take Manbij, enter Mosul, and Jerusalem as well,” Senturk roared through a megaphone he held in his left hand.”
The question now surely is: is the sword-wielding Turkish Governor Necati Senturk merely saying what the Turkish establishment is thinking?
Kurdistan 24 also pointed out the wider tension resulting from the Ottoman style statements of this new Erdoğan-AKP–Right-Wing-Nationalist offensive in recent days…including the Greek’s response:
“Speaking on the anniversary of Greece’s independence from the Turkish in 1821, Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos on Sunday lashed out at Turkey.
“Whoever has in mind large Ottoman empires should remember 1821. How the Greek people faced the Ottoman empire and crushed it,” Kammenos said, according to the daily Kathimerini.”
To illustrate their point Kurdistan 24 produced an interesting map “The map of Turkey in school textbooks according to the Ottoman Parliament-sealed, 1920 “National Oath” that designates Mosul, today’s Kurdistan Region, Syrian Kurdistan, Aleppo, parts of the Balkans and Caucasus as Turkish soil.”
So where to from here for the people of the region? Armageddon?
And for those that don’t know:
“According to the Book of Revelation in the New Testament of the Bible, Armageddon is the prophesied location of a gathering of armies for a battle during the end times, variously interpreted as either a literal or a symbolic location. The term is also used in a generic sense to refer to any end of the world scenario.”
Hopefully, if this Armageddon is to unfold it will follow the thoughts of Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, imprisoned HDP co-chairs who now sit in a Turkish dungeon waiting for the AKP regime to do as most warlike regimes in the past have done – overextend itself on its grim and bloody road to consigning itself to the trash heap of history…
…unfortunately piling mountains upon mountains of corpses on its path there.
And as promised: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan having announced Sunday 25th that the next target is the nearby town of Tal Rifaat…
…on Tuesday 27th Turkey claimed this military operation had begun. “It followed a reported agreement on Monday night between Russia and Turkey to allow Ankara’s army to take the town: “God willing, we will ensure this operation achieves its goal after taking control of Tal Rifaat in a short period of time,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Sunday.”
…While on the 29th Rudaw reported Syrian regime forces (along with the Syrian Red Crescent) arriving in Tal Rifaat with “crates of rifles.”
And more, when on March 29th, news has begun to circulate that following talks with the “…delegation representing the Kurdish, Arab, and Christian components of Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava)…” French President Emmanuel Macron “on Thursday vowed to send troops to Syria in support of the US-led coalition to block any further advance by Turkey…”
Turkey’s response, on March 31st: “Those who enter into cooperation and solidarity with terror groups against Turkey … will, like the terrorists, become a target of Turkey,” Mr Bozdag, [Turkish deputy prime minister] who is also the Turkish government spokesman, wrote on Twitter. “We hope France does not take such an irrational step.”
Now enter…the 4 Horsemen…
By Mihrimah bint Ibrahim, via flickr.com
The Expansion of the Ottoman Empire
Drawn by Atilim Gunes Baydin.
Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Random Maps, via google, “fair use”, (use for commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, and scholarship)…