A catastrophe in Syria's Afrin
Turkey's military operation with the Orwellian name of "Olive Branch" has reached the outskirts of the city of Afrin, and has taken 850 kilometres of the province.
There are three potentially catastrophic outcomes to what is about to happen. The first involves what happens during the fall of Afrin itself.
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) March 9, 2018
But for the Syrian rebels, who are mostly Arabs, participation in the Turkish offensive is personal.
“This is about revenge,” said Waleed al-Mahal, a former rebel fighter who says he has sent dozens of his relatives to Turkish recruitment offices to join the push and hopes to be called up soon himself. “We’re taking our land back.”
His rhetoric echoes a video circulated online this week, apparently showing rebel fighters discussing plans to loot houses in Afrin. “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” says a fighter who is apparently in charge.
It doesn't take much imagination to picture what this means. Especially since these Turkish-backed rebels are often former al-Qaeda jihadists.
The second involves what happens shortly after the fall of Afrin.
Heydemann was also firmly against suggestions that refugees hosted by Turkey could be moved back into the northern Syrian territories occupied by Turkey.
“Demographic changes by military forces are considered against international laws and these are crimes under international human rights law,” he said, adding that forcing refugees to return would be against international law.
There is a precedent for such a misguided action in the region: Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad displaced Kurds from the area during the 1970s and sent in Arab settlers. If this is done again, it could lead to “generations of conflict,” said Heydemann.
However, the third scenario is the one that will matter to the U.S.
It involves out relations with Turkey and our Syrian Kurd allies.
Erdogan said Turkey’s armed forces will push on after operations in Afrin and Manbij, further east, to sweep Syrian Kurdish fighters from the length of Turkey’ border with Syria.
“We are in Afrin today, we will be in Manbij tomorrow. The next day we will ensure that the east of Euphrates will be cleared of terrorist up to the Iraqi border.”
It's bad enough that we are looking away while our Kurdish allies are being slaughtered by al-Qaeda jihadists in Afrin, but it appears that we intend to allow the Turks to launch a major new offensive against the Kurds throughout Syria.
In an effort to repair tattered relations, the Trump administration has told Turkey it will move to rein in Kurdish fighters that have been the backbone of the U.S. campaign against the Islamic State in Syria, according to U.S. and Turkish officials.
The first step and “the crux of the matter,” a senior Turkish official said, is to withdraw the Kurds from the Syrian town of Manbij and relocate them east of the Euphrates River. The town, about 25 miles from Turkey’s border, has come to symbolize the fevered competition for territory and influence in northern Syria among the United States, Turkey, and other regional powers.
...U.S. commanders on the ground in and around Manbij have previously warned that several hundred American troops deployed there would defend the Kurds against any attack by Turkish troops, now massed a few miles away. Turkish officials were outraged last month when U.S. commanders touring the area with American journalists praised the Kurds and vowed to fight alongside them if there were a Turkish attack.
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) March 10, 2018
Turkish President Erdogan has called our bluff in Manbij and we folded. Not only that, Erdogan is now complaining about our lack of assistance in crushing the Kurds.
Turkey's president has criticized NATO for not supporting his country's ongoing military operation against Syrian Kurdish fighters in Syria.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking to reporters on Saturday, asked, "Hey NATO, where are you?" and accused the military alliance of double standards.
This leaves 2,000 U.S. troops in Kurdish areas while we are actively betraying the Kurds.
On top of that, the Kurds have already turned to Assad for help, and he responded. Which has led to fighting between Syrian government forces and Turkish-backed jihadists.
At some point the Kurds will be under pressure to turn on the U.S. troops. Then things will get very messy very fast.