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Early on March 18, the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) captured the northeastern Syrian city of Afrin from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Later on the same day, the TAF and the FSA established control over all villages, which had remained under the YPG control north and northwest of the city.
The YPG had de-facto withdrawn from its stronghold of Afrin without any serious resistance to the TAF and the FSA confirming a full collapse of the YPG defense in Afrin. Turkish forces captured a large number of weapons, including anti-tank guided missiles, in the city. A major part of the YPG members and civilians had fled to the government-held part of Aleppo province.
Ankara launched its Operation Olive Branch in Afrin on January 20. Since then, Turkish forces had captured over 200 various localities across the area. The operation reportedly involved over 6,400 Turkish service members and over 10,000 FSA members, supported by various military equipment, artillery pieces and aircraft.
On March 18, Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan said that 3,603 so-called terrorists had been neutralized in the operation. He added that 46 Turkish service members had been killed and 225 others had been injured in Afrin clashes.
According to the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, over 400 FSA members had been also killed in clashes. According to pro-YPG sources, about 1,600 Turkish service members and FSA members had been killed.
Both sides provide conflicting numbers of casualties because of the ongoing propaganda war between them.
Ankara describes the YPG as a Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which had been waging militancy against the Turkish state. Thus, Turkey sees the YPG and the US support to the YPG as a threat to its national security. Pro-YPG sources accused Ankara of ethnic cleansings and mass civilian casualties.
According to conflicting reports about 500 civilians have been killed since the start of Operation Olive Branch.
The YPG and the so-called self-administration in Afrin controlled by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) claimed that its forces would shift its strategy from a direct confrontation with Turkish forces to a guerrilla warfare. The PYD-linked body also accused Russia of participating in the Turkish military operation in Afrin by “opening [Syrian] airspace” for the Turkish Air Force.
This was not the first time when the YPG and the PYD accused Russia of indirectly assisting Turkey in its military efforts in Afrin. However, all these times, the YPG and the PYD forgot to mention that Russia and the Damascus government had been engaged in negotiations with the YPG in Afrin for a long time suggesting various opportunities to reach a reconciliation agreement with Damascus. Such an agreement would allow Syria to deploy its forces as well as to expand a network of Russian observation posts in the Afrin area. However, all the suggestions had been rejected by the YPG and the PYD. The Kurdish leadership had not been ready to exchange even a part of its political and military power in the area on an opportunity to save Afrin from Turkish forces.
On the same time, Kurdish forces operating under different brands in northeastern Syria, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) mostly consist of YPG members, had abandoned their Afrin counterparts. They had not provided a sizable military support to Afrin and had not attacked Turkish-backed forces in northern Aleppo as some Kurdish sources had promised.
The project of the unified Kurdish north has failed. Different Kurdish factions, even operating under the same brands – the SDF, the YPG, the PYD and others – have appeared to be incapable to unite even in the face of the Turkish advance on Afrin.
A similar situation was observed in Iraq in 2017 when different Kurdish political factions shown inability to reach a political solution with the Federal Government, staged an independence referendutm, lost the oil-rich area of Kirkuk and then were forced to come back under the de-facto rule of Baghdad.
Another factor, which contributed to the Turkish victory in Afrin, is that the US abandoned the YPG/SDF in the area. According to information obtained by SouthFront, this was a result of an undisclosed political agreement between the US leadership and top officials of the Turkish foreign and defense ministries that had arrived in Washington.