The Battle of Afrin and the Concerns of Turkish National Security

The Battle of Afrin and the Concerns of Turkish National Security

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Muammar Faysal Khouli *
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the operation of Afrin (northern Syria) has started on the ground, followed by the city of Manbij, and will continue to the borders of Iraq, to expel the units of protection of the Kurdish people from those areas. Erdogan added at a conference of his party in the state of Kutahia in western Turkey, there are those who try to deceive Turkey by putting different names for the organizations in Syria, some saying it is a border protection army, apparently referring to what the United States said that it was a military force seeking to form on the Syrian border of Kurdish fighters and others. The Turkish president considered that the name of this organization is the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, “and we do not care what they say.” Erdogan added that” no one is entitled to say anything to us as long as the promises made to us in Manbej have not been implemented, “he added, addressing the United States” a day will come when you understand your mistake to rely on terrorist organizations. ”
The thing that led to the acceleration of the start of this battle is the declaration of the international coalition led by the USA  to form an army of 30,000 fighters led by the followers of Turkish PKK in Syria, guarding the Syrian border with Turkey and Iraq, and there were many international reactions. Yasin Aktay, adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accused the United States of using the paper of the Kurdish people protection forces to divide Syria, while Turkey confirms the unity of Syrian territory. Aktay confirmed Ankara’s firm rejection of Washington’s plans to establish a border security force in northern Syria, consisting of 30 thousand fighters, with the participation of Kurdish factions led by what is known as Syria’s democratic forces, and said that Turkey rejects the presence of terrorist groups on its southern border. He said that Washington is violating by its plans the rules and principles of NATO, which is currently in crisis because of the violation of USA to its principles. Aktay stressed that Turkey would not allow the establishment of a Kurdish “canton” in Syria, adding that Afrin, Manbij and West Euphrates are a red line for Turkey. “We will not allow ethnic cleansing by the Kurdish protection forces of the Arabs on our border with Syria, stressing that Turkey has all the right to use force in Syria to protect its national security. He said that the scenario of military confrontation is possible, “We will enter Afrin and Manbaj if necessary, and this is not a joke.” The question that arises in this context : what is the importance of Afrin for Kurds and Turks, and what is required from Turkey to settle the battle in its favor?
The city is politically subject to self- administration and military and security to the Kurdish people’s units and it is one of the three self-governing groups in Syria (Al-Jazeera, Ain Al Arab, Kobany and Afrin). In January 2014, the Democratic Union Party announced self-administration in the Syrian north on three areas: Ain al-Arab / Kobani, Al-Jazeera in the east, and Afrin in the west. Afrin is strategically important in the Kurdish project, as it is the geographical bridge to connect the project to the Mediterranean Sea if circumstances permit, as many Kurdish officials have stated. However, this area is a red line for Turkey, which confirms that it will not allow the establishment of a Kurdish entity on the southern border of Turkey with Syria , President Erdogan said in a statement that he would not allow the establishment of a “terrorist corridor starting from Afrin and extending to the Mediterranean.” President Erdogan also demanded on November 17, 2017, the purge of Afrin from the Kurds. he added “It is very important for us to purge the Afrin area from the terrorist organization ” , The Democratic Union Party and its wing , the Kurdish People Protection Units . The Turkish president announced on January 9, 2018, that his country’s army would expand the operation of the Euphrates shield to include the areas of Afrin and Manbaj (northern Syria), and told his party members that” the time has come to eliminate the project that the terrorist organization intends to carry out in Syria. “In 2016, Turkey launched Operation of Euphrates Shield on its border with Syria to eliminate what it called the “terrorist corridor” of ISIS danger and Syrian Kurdish fighters whom Turkey believes are affiliated with the Turkish- Kurdish PKK, Turkey that was defined as a terrorist party by Turkey, America and Europe.
In this context , the multiple reasons of Turkey to fight the battle of Afrin are : First, the American decision to form a Kurdish army, which was considered by Ankara, is a legislative act of a future Kurdish state, which poses an existential threat to the Turkish state because it will be a possible base for launching attacks against it and may be for the expansion and annex areas considered its territories by the party inside Turkey itself. In fact, the US resolution called for a Turkish response, but given that all the previous Turkish government’s plans were facing a clear American rejection, did the Turks reach what could be considered the brink of an abyss where the fall could not be accepted and were ready to cross the international preventive line to attack the workers party , or is this line no longer exists after statements by spokesmen from the US Department of Defense to confirm that the party’s forces in Afrin “are not part of the American operation against the Dahesh” and that it does not support these forces militarily?
Second, the American military and political support for the PKK over the past years has not been the only variable in the Syrian equation which is very complex, the party has been a tool to use by the Syrian regime since the beginning of the revolution in 2011 against all the Kurdish parties that sympathized with that revolution, and was able to open lines on the Russians who want to embarrass the Turks, compete with their American sponsors, and other lines with the Iranians so that the benefits and interests of the two parties were exchanged in Syria, Iran and Iraq, as well as with Europeans who allowed volunteers of European nationalities to fight with it , and provided it with various forms of military support . All these sponsors and supporters of the Labor Party provided plenty of room for movement, but it deepened the deep historical feelings of the Turks that the plan of the old allies of the First World War (the Russians, the British and the French) to destroy their country had been restored again and that the Labor Party was its main instrument of implementation after the fall of the last military coup in Summer of 2016.
The Turkish plan to break the party’s thorn in Afrin requires Washington to abandon its Kurdish ally there, which is difficult but possible if the Americans consider it a reasonable price for Turkish recognition of their plan to control the East Euphrates region. In this context, Washington reassured the Turkish side that the international coalition against the Islamic State Organization (ISIS) would not launch military operations in the Syrian city of Afrin and denied any support for the Kurdish “People Protection Units” in the city of Afrin and said they had “no connection to them.”

Some circles in Turkey considered that this position indicates that the United States will not intervene against any future Turkish military operation in the Afrin region. However, Gawishoglu considered that statements by US officials about their concerns about the Syrian border are not reassuring, and therefore stressed that his country would intervene In Afrin and Mnbij in Syria, “and they told America that they do not want to face an ally there. There is no doubt to get the acceptance of Moscow on the military operation in Afrin will subject to bargains between the Russians and Turks where the Russia will not support the operation only be in exchange for the Turkish side’s implementation of its commitments to the path of Astana, to ensure security in Idlib and to move towards the liquidation of the “Fatah al-Sham Front” ( Nasra earlier) gradually. In addition, the Russian approval of the Turkish request comes at a time when the positions of Russian, Turkish and Iranian politicians are united in order to thwart the American project seeking to form a new army by weakening the militias of the Kurdish protection units. This is what Turkey is seeking through its military operation in Afrin. However, Russian politicians want their Turkish counterparts to direct their military operation only to remove PKK elements from non-Syrians, specifically the Turks, because the Russians are still coordinating with the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party, which has an office in Moscow. Moscow does not want to lose it in favor of its alliance with Washington. The evidence for Russia’s response to Turkey’s position in Afrin is in its declaration of withdrawal of its military observers from the vicinity of the city.
As for Iran, the Turkish government is conducting extensive contacts with Tehran to gain support for the Ankara battle in Afrin, based on the two countries’ refusal to establish an independent Kurdish entity, whether in Syria or Iraq, in anticipation of possible repercussions for their national security. The Turkish government is counting on joint coordination between them the Syrian conflict , the matter which was seen by the Turks as an helping factor for Iran’s approval of their country’s move in the Syrian north. Iran, in reciprocal, does not want Turkey to be alone in northern Syria, fearing that the Turkish role will affect its expansionist project in the Arab Mashreq, as well as seeking to be the free hand in the Syrian situation in cooperation and coordination with Russia. The Turkish reality is that Turkey did not confront the Iranian plans in Syria or in Iraq, but that the Turkish absence on Syrian soil was exploited by Iranian politicians for their project of exerting influence and hegemony, and imposing a solution by force in Syria and enabling it to open the corridor between Tehran and Beirut through Bghdad -Damascus, so the Iranian politicians are making use of time through their militias in Syria in order to seize more areas controlled by the Syrian opposition, which they are currently doing in both Ghouta of East Damascus and Idlib province .
The scenes of the battle of Afrin can be summarized in two main scenes:
The first is a large-scale operation aimed at undermining the control of Democratic Union party over Afrin completely , which is similar to the Euphrates Shield in terms of preparation, stages and gradations, and the participation of several divisions of different specialties in the Turkish army, as well as the Free Syrian groups.
The second is a limited operation that takes away some areas of the Party and encircles it in a narrower geographical area, thus reducing its danger on the Turkish border and ending the possibility of its subsequent contact with the eastern cantons geographically, as well as preventing its access to the Mediterranean waters. There are many challenges to the proposed Turkish plan. The first is the difference in Afrin’s terrain from the areas of the Euphrates shield, which seems more difficult and complicated, and Ankara is not satisfied with the long-term positions of Moscow and Washington. The battle, in the end, is a Turkish battle because it is between two Turkish parties, or rather a battle for Turkey itself, but it will necessarily affect the course of subsequent events in Syria, and thus also a battle for Syria.

Rawabet Center for Research and Strategic Studies