Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erodgan has clarified the size and scope of Operation Olive Branch during a speech where he stated that once Afrin is pacified, Turkey will move to further east to the Kurdish YPG-PYD–PKK enclave in Manbij and eventually to the Iraqi border.
This is significant because while even Russian and Syrian troops have not crossed into areas in north eastern Syria where illegal American bases house Kurdish proxy militants, Turkey is now prepared to do so. This ends any speculation regarding whether Turkey intends to restrain its anti-YPG operations to Kurdish areas with a negligible US presence. Instead, Erdogan’s forces stand ready to pacify areas throughout the illegal Kurdish regime in northern Syria called “Rojava” by its supporters. At least half of this area is home to US troops.
If the initial phase of Operation Olive Branch saw Turkey doing Syria’s ‘dirty work’ in so far as Turkey went after a direct US asset in Syria in the form of the YPG, now Turkey is even doing Russia’s dirty work in preparing itself for what could be a direct confrontation with the US proxy militia SDF which is based in north eastern Syria and comprised almost entirely of YPG units. Russia has made it clear that the US occupying forces in eastern Syria are counterproductive and serve only to set the stage for an attempted US division of Syria. However, Russia has never stated that it intends to send its troops into US controlled zones in north-eastern Syria–but hours ago, Erdogan said that he will send his troops into those very zones.
This paves the way for a Syrian National Dialogue Conference in Sochi that as Russia stated, will include some Kurdish groups, but which Turkey has implied, will not host the radical YPG–PKK’s political branch in SYria, the PYD.
This strategy helps to draw a further schism between de-facto “moderate non-rebel Kurds” who have good relations with Russia and acceptable relations with Turkey, versus the radical YPG-PKK aligned Kurds whose only remaining supporters are the United States, some EU actors and “Israel”.
From a political point of view, this satisfies Russia’s goal of including at least some moderate Kurdish groups at the forthcoming Syrian National Dialogue Congress, while also satisfying Turkey’s goal of having the Dialogue Congress in Sochi free of any pro-PKK elements.
From a military point of view, it means that Turkey is now openly challenging the US occupation of eastern Syria head on. It remains to be seen how and if the Pentagon will address this new statement from Turkey’s President. Previously, both Turkey and the US said that they will not hesitate to fire upon each other if their armed forces come into contact in Syria under hostile conditions. This new reality could see Turkey taking steps to exit the NATO alliance if tensions between Turkey and the US continue to grow.