Turkish Afrin victory to reverberate across Syria – analysis

Turkey’s victory against Kurdish forces in the Syrian enclave of Afrin, in an assault that lasted just two months, is set to reverberate through Syria for some time to come, Hassan Hassan wrote for the National.

The Turkish operation had both an operational and psychological effect on the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the overall U.S. strategy in eastern Syria.

Islamic State (ISIS) still controls a handful of villages in the rural areas of Abu Kamal, east of the River Euphrates, and forces battling them were already stretched thin, Hassan Hassan said.

“Fighting was mostly limited to American sorties against ISIS fighters, rather than actual fighting between the group and the US-backed forces,” he said. “One source claimed that the U.S.-led coalition would conduct an air strike against one ISIS fighter or sniper hiding in a building, instead of attempts by ground forces to take him out."

With the decision by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to refocus on Afrin, the fighting situation became even less tenable, the UAE newspaper said.

ISIS has now reorganised its forces, replacing Iraqi commanders with foreign members, and has warned against mistreatment of civilians in those areas. The group has also distributed fertiliser and offered free ploughing services for farmers, he said.

“These measures, reportedly a response to recent popular outcry over mistreatment and looting of houses abandoned by their owners, could further stiffen the group’s resistance in the remaining areas,” he said. “Over the past few days, ISIS also used the calm to launch multiple attacks against the regime west of the river, controlling an outpost in an area outside Damascus known as Al Kam.”

The Afrin battle has also eroded trust in the U.S. ability to defend its allies and tension over Afrin has already created friction between the United States and the YPG, he said.

“The U.S. will now try to accommodate not confront Turkish concerns about the YPG, which led the two to discuss formulas to address differences, a clear departure from previous instances in which the two seemed close to a military confrontation,” Hassan said. “Today, American officials seek to appease Turkey for multiple reasons, one of which is to pull it away from Russia.”

The United States is also seeking to address the demographic balance in the SDF in order to strengthen its legitimacy in Arab areas.

“In this sense, the YPG’s losses are poised to go beyond its loss in Afrin,” Hassan said referring to the possibility that the YPG will soon lose its monopoly over key positions in the SDF.

“Taken together, the Afrin battle marks a turning point for the Syrian conflict. Turkey threw a stone into the geopolitical lake of northern Syria, and the ripple effect is not going to stop any time soon.”