Hard to resume and understand the situation in Afrin and the escalation of tensions between Turkey, the US and France.
The BBC wrote a relevant article on it and gave the first explanations in 100, 300 and 700 words two weeks ago. It is not sure it would be possible to do the same now.
US may plan to help the militia form a « border security force » to help prevent infiltration by IS militants across the Turkish and Iraqi borders and parts of the River Euphrates. It alarmed Ankara, which considers the US-backed Kurdish militia that controls much of north-eastern Syria as a terrorist group. Turkey sees the militia as being an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, even if the militia denies any direct military or political links with the PKK. Turkey’s president warned Washington was « creating a terror army » and the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement that cooperation of the US with the militia contradicts Washington’s commitments and statements made earlier, and threatens the national security of Turkey.
The support of Russia
On Thursday 18th Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told broadcaster CNN Turk that Turkey will coordinate with Russia and Iran on an air operation in Afrin.
Turkish troops, assisted by rebels from the Free Syrian Army (FSA), crossed into northern Syria on Sunday 21st January as part of its offensive – called « Operation Olive Branch » – to push out the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the aim was to establish a 30km « safe zone » deep inside Syria.
BBC reports the determination of the Turkish president and the agreement with Russia: « We are determined, Afrin will be sorted out, » he said. « We spoke about this with our Russian friends; we have an agreement. »
« We are determined, Afrin will be sorted out » (Turkish president)
The critics of Paris
Since the beginning of the operation French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has expressed concerns about the offensive and warned the government to show restraint in its operations against Kurdish forces in the region. French President Emmanuel Macron also warned Turkey that its operation against Kurdish militias should not become an excuse to invade the country:
According to Le Figaro newspaper Macron said, “If it turns out that this operation takes a turn other than to fight a potential terrorist threat to the Turkish border and becomes an invasion operation, (then) this becomes a real problem for us”.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim replied to Macron with “If France is interpreting this issue as such (invasion operation), we need to assess what they have done in Syria accordingly”. He added that “This is a crooked idea from the start. The whole world knows that Turkey is not acting with an invasive mind. They should know it.”
This week Jean-Yves Le Drian, speaking on BFM television, asked for the “withdrawal of all of those who ought not to be in Syria, including Iranian militia, including Hezbollah”. According to him international law is being violated by Turkey, by the Damascus regime, by Iran and those who are attacking eastern Ghouta and Idlib. He wishes that Ankara does not worsen the conflict in Syria by adding war to war.
Omer Celik, Turkey’s EU minister criticized (on twitter) French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s statement claiming that Turkey had targeted civilians in the operation and violated international law.
“It is Turkey’s legitimate right to ensure the security of its borders. However, ensuring the security of borders does not mean that you can kill civilians” (French Foreign Minister)
The worries of Brussels
The High Representative Federica Moghereini is “extremely worried”: “we need to make sure that humanitarian access is guaranteed and that the civilian population and people are not suffering from military activities on the ground. We also need to make sure that any military activity is focused at anti-Da’esh, in terms of strategy. And the other thing that worries me and us a lot is the fact that this, among other things, including military activities from others in Syria, can undermine seriously the resumption of talks in Geneva, which is what, we believe, could really bring sustainable peace and security for Syria with a political transition. This requires the situation on the ground to be as calm as possible and the regime in Damascus to commit to political negotiations under U.N. auspices.”
A EU-Turkey summit will take place on March 26 in Varna, Bulgaria, with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov attending. Topics to be discussed: Issues of mutual interest including the rule of law and basic freedoms in Turkey.
And what about NATO and the US?
Erdogan also warned that the city of Manbij where the United States has forces deployed, will be Turkey’s next target. On the field, the tension is real between the US and Turkey. The New York times reports the words of two senior American generals : “We’re very proud of our positions here, and we want to make sure everybody knows it,” said Maj. Gen. Jamie Jarrard, the Special Operations commander for the American-led coalition in Iraq and Syria. Lt. Gen. Paul Funk added “You hit us, we will respond aggressively. We will defend ourselves.”
The secretary general of NATO remains silent on the topic and the alliance seems to be embarrassed. In the meantime, Italy has agreed to extend its air defence system in the Southern Turkish province of Kahramanmaras against possible attacks from Syria until September. This air defence system is operated under the umbrella of NATO.
Credit photo: @IHS conflict monitor, January 2018