23 January 2018

Why Turkey's Incursion Into Afrin Is Very Risky

The Turkish military operation to invade the Kurdish enclave Afrin hides a complicated maneuvering by the major players in Syria.

And Turkey might end up regretting this decision.

While President Erdogan has been itching to do something about Syrian Kurds and the  Democratic Union Party or PYD, an organization closely associated with Turkey's PKK or Kurdistan Workers Party it never got permission to attack them.

That's because PYD's military wing YPG (People's Protection Units) has proved itself very useful to both the Americans and Russians.

They fought ISIS in the region east of Euphrates in coordination with the Americans and proved themselves a formidable military force.

They worked closely with Russians on the other side of the river.

In fact, just as the Americans placed observers among eastern troops Russians deployed their own observers in the west to protect YPG from Turkish artillery.

What is interesting is that, supposedly, the incursion is a reaction to a US announcement regarding the formation of a 30,000-strong Border Defense Force to patrol the Syria-Turkey border.

The problem with this casus belli is that, currently, there are only 230 militiamen out of the proposed 30,000. It does not exist.

Moreover, according the Rex Tillerson, The Border Defense Force was never meant to patrol Turkish border and their primary role was to block the escape routes of ISIS fighters. But this was never made clear in the original announcement.

An attack of this kind against an entrenched adversary requires close air support and without one casualties would skyrocket as they did in the previous Euphrates Shield operation to take Al-Bab.

Syrian airspace is controlled and defended by Russia. Without their permission Turkish Air Force could not cross the border.

Considering this, if I were to guess, I would suggest that the annpuncement was a deliberate move by Pentagon to force Putin to make a choice between Turkey and Syrian Kurds.

If Russia opened Syrian airspace, Kurds would feel betrayed and might limit their cooperation with them in the future.

If Russia refused permission, Turkey would feel more isolated and might reconsider its rapprochement policy with Russia, including the purchase of S400 missile systems.

Makes sense.

However, if the US made the bogus border troop announcement to put Putin in a bind they failed to achieve their goal.

From Putin's perspective, it is a win-win situation.

Remember that Putin wants a unified Syria under al-Assad. He is the kingmaker and Assad is the king.

I am pretty sure that he gave a limited permission to Turkey that could be revoked at any time. He would allow just Afrin and he would ask for it to be given to Assad.

And Manbij, fuhgettaboutit.

From where Putin stood, it looked like an attack on Afrin might convince the Turkish-backed rebels who controlled parts of Idlib and the all important Abu Dhuhour military airport to send reinforcements to Afrin which then would allow the Syrian troops to grab the base.

Both predictions held.

A green light to Turkey would also signal to the Kurds that Russia is the "big daddy" in the region.

There are reports that Russia asked the Kurds to let the Syrian army back into Afrin and offered to stop the Turkish attack in that case. The Kurds made a counter-offer which would give the administration to the government but maintain the security in Kurdish hands.

Damascus refused.

Hence the permission.

There is also the bonus that Russia's permission would pull Turkey even closer to Russia's sphere of influence and drive a wedge between Nato and Turkey. And especially between the US and Turkey.

This is a speculation but I think what might even be more interesting for Putin is the possibility that the operation might prove to be a disaster for Turkey if its weak and demoralized army cannot pull off a decisive victory.

Observers point out that YPG is a battle hardened and well equipped army and they had two years to create defensive positions around Afrin.

Nato is already on record about the weakening of the Turkish army and its utility to the alliance. This could lead to some questioning and Erdogan, known for his blustery style, might simply pull Turkey out of Nato.

This is Putin's wet dream.

This doesn't look good for Turkey.

And I didn't even mention Iran.

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