Kurdish fighters increase attacks on Turkish posts around Afrin
[Qamishli, SYRIA] - Syrian Kurdish fighters have increased attacks on the Turkish military and its Syrian rebel allies around northwestern Syrian district of Afrin, an escalation analysts believe could only complicate a delicate situation in northern Syria.
The People’s Protection Units (YPG) said last week it had killed nine Turkish soldiers and three Syrian rebel fighters in Afrin. The YPG pledged more attacks against the Turkish military and their rebel allies.
“Afrin won’t be stable as long as it’s occupied by the Turkish military and Syrian mercenaries,” said YPG spokesman Nuri Mahmud.
“We as the YPG will not stay restless until we make sure the city gets back to its native people. We will continue attacking the Turkish army and those who collaborated with them in invading Afrin,” he said.
The Turkish military and its Syrian allies captured the town of Afrin from the YPG in March after a two-month-long campaign. After fighting in the hills around the town, the Syrian Kurdish abandoned Afrin without a fight in the face of overwhelming Turkish firepower.
Turkey says the YPG is part of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been engaged in an armed campaign for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey’s southeast since 1984. Ankara says both Kurdish groups are terrorist organisations.
“When we asked civilians to evacuate the city, our intent was to spare their lives, but our fighters never left the city. They are still there and we will continue to be there until Afrin is liberated from these thugs.” Mahmud said.
Aldar Khalil, a top Kurdish official in northern Syria, said in a recent interview with Ronahi TV that the objective was ultimately to retake Afrin and hand it back to the local population.
But military experts said the Kurdish group does not have the strength to pose a major threat to the Turkish military and its Syrian allies in Afrin.
“I don’t think the YPG poses any existential threat against Turkish forces and opposition groups,” said Ahmed Rahal, a former Syrian army general who is currently an Istanbul-based military analyst.
Rahal said the YPG’s current strategy was to remain relevant in the Afrin region, through waging attacks that could also increase its popularity.
“The YPG has many sleeper cells that can carry out occasional attacks, but that won’t be of major concern to Turkey. The YPG uses these attacks to remind its supporters and the international community that it still isn’t happy about Afrin being under Turkish control,” he said.
Other analysts said that by carrying out such attacks, Kurdish fighters wanted to regain the faith of the local population in Afrin.
“The YPG did not contest the Turkish conquest of Afrin once it became clear that the only outcome would be greater destruction of the region and a high rate of Kurdish deaths,” said Joshua Landis, director of Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. “All the same, there was considerable doubt within the Kurdish community about the wisdom of not contesting the conquest more vigorously.”
Landis said it was far from clear what would happen in Syria’s north.
“Today the future of northern Syria is very much up in the air. The United States is talking to Russia and President Trump has repeatedly said that he wants to bring American troops home and quit Syria. His advisers have walked back these statements and insist that the U.S. will not withdraw from Syria so long as Iran is a danger,” he told Ahval.
While Syrian government troops have made significant military advances elsewhere in Syria, any move on northern areas such as Idlib and Afrin could threaten Turkish interests in the region, Landis said.
“Turkey has warned Russia not to support such a move in Idlib by Assad. With this growing uncertainty about the fate of Turkey's presence within Syria and Russia's stand toward the territorial integrity of Syria, the logic of YPG attacks on Turkish and Arab rebel soldiers makes more sense,” Landis said.
“Kurdish forces will want to harass Turkey and encourage Assad's campaign in the north of the country. If the YPG can begin to deflate the enthusiasm of Turks to occupy Syrian territory, Syrian and Russian policy makers may decide to push harder against Turkish occupation,” he said.
Afrin residents in areas targeted by the YPG said they were concerned for their safety.
“We have moved from our homes many times over the past several months. I’m afraid that YPG attacks against (rebel) groups will result in new large-scale fighting and force us to flee our homes again,” said Hanan Menjo, a 54-year-old living outside Afrin.