Turkey’s President Erdogan has confirmed early reports from the ground indicating that Turkish troops and their allies have assumed full control of the northern Syrian city of Afrin, which prior to this was occupied by YPG/PKK militants.
Erdogan has stated that once pro-Turkish troops approached the city, YPG militants fled, just as Kurdish Peshmerga fighters did the same when Iraqi troops and Popular Mobilisation Units worked to stop a radical Kurdish insurgency in northern Iraq in the autumn of 2017.
First and foremost, this is a big blow to the prestige of the United States. The US has consistently backed YPG forces which comprise the vast majority of fighters in the US proxy militia SDF. Furthermore, the US and its European allies cautioned Turkey against its anti-YPG Operation Olive Branch throughout its duration. Turkey refused to back down and the results in Afrin demonstrate that Turkey’s willingness and ability to defy mainstream NATO opinion has not only led to a military victory for Ankara but a political defeat for Washington, Paris and Berlin.
While the US claims that the YPG/SDF were effective in fighting Daesh (ISIS), the rapid retreat of heavily enforced YPG units, including from SDF flagged militants who deserted US occupied territory east of the Euphrates to join their brethren in Afrin, suggests that Syrian and Russian claims that the US and its proxies have done little to nothing in the fight against Daesh, were entirely accurate all along.
The US will now have little choice other than to follow through on early stage agreements to disarm YPG/SDF fighters in Manbij, or else face another humiliation at the hands of Turkey and Turkish aligned forces in what Erdogan has promised is the next major battle in Operation Olive Branch.
At this point, the joint US-“Israeli” dream of hollowing out Syrian territory to create a Kurdish statelet is all but dead. With a victory in Afrin and with Turkey vowing to push further east against the YPG, the US and its increasingly disloyal Kurdish proxies are boxed in between the Iraqi border and Manbij. Without any meaningful international support apart from the Tel Aviv regime, such an isolated enclave could not function as an effective statelet, even with the continued presence of US troops – a presence that Russia, Syria, Iran and Turkey have been ever more bold in condemning. At this time last year, Kurdish radicals, goaded on by Washington spoke of a Kurdish statelet stretching from Iraq to the Mediterranean. Such ambitions are now entirely quashed.
While Syria and Turkey remain at odds over Operation Olive Branch, the reality is that Turkey has done Syria a favour in so far as Ankara’s operation has stamped out any realistic development of a Kurdish regime in northern Syria that would have continued to threaten the territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic. The battle also demonstrates that the only effective indigenous fighting force in Syria is the Syrian Arab Army. Neither the YPG, Takfiri terrorists nor volunteer units that support the Syrian government have been able to achieve any lasting victories in the country without the assistance of a regular army, while the Syrian Arab Army clearly has and continues to do so.
Syria continues to worry that in Afrin, a YPG occupier has been substituted for a Turkish one. Ultimately, these fears should be assuaged by the fact that as part of the Astana Group, Turkey along with Russia and Iran, are helping to devise and oversee a political process to end the conflict in Syria. As part of this process, Turkish troops will almost certainly eventually withdraw from the Syrian Arab Republic as part of the Astana commitment which was reiterated just this week, stating that Russia, Iran and Turkey will all respect the territorial unity of the Syrian Arab Republic.
In this sense, while the US and “Israel’s” illegal occupation zones in Syria will be difficult to eliminate, Turkey is ultimately a country that is working constructively with Damascus’s primary partners and as such, does not pose the kind of existentialist threat to Syria in the way that the US and “Israel” continue to do.
In the short term, it is a massive victory for Turkey and a total humiliation for both the YPG and the United States. In the longer term, Turkey has done Syria’s dirty work in facing down US proxies and exposing the weakness of both their military prowess and of their political ambitions.