Original by Yevgeniy Krutikov published by Vzglyad; translation by J.Hawk
Having crossed the border with Syria, Turkish troops advanced 200m in the direction of the Kurdish city of Afrin and started to dig in. From the formal point of view, this can be viewed as military aggression, which moreover has not began yesterday. But if one is to look at the situation more carefully, its assessment quickly changes: The Turk is not as terrible as he is painted.
According to world media, Turkish combat engineers are digging trenches using bulldozers and construction equipment. Turkish artillery is at the same time shelling the border zone not only around Afrin but also around the long-suffering Aazaz. Put together, these activities suggest a new round of stand-off not only on the Turkish-Syrian border, but also in the area of surrounded jihadi forces in northern Alepppo province which have lost their logistical support coming from Turkey.
Aazaz is now all-but-officially called “the last bastion of the opposition”. From the military point of view, it was doomed already five years ago when government forces reached Shia enclaves around Zahra and cut the opposition’s access to Turkey. Since then we’ve been witnessing the destruction of the encircled militant forces even as they are demanding help from Ankara.
Afrin, which was slowly and hesitantly approached by Turkish engineers, is more important to the Kurds than to the Syrian army. And the Kurds are Ankara’s main foe. There are reasons to believe that the Kurdish national defense detachments from the Party of Democratic Union (which is known for its women’s battalions which are regularly featured by electronic media) reached out to government forces and to Russian Aerospace Forces and received support needed to take Afrin whose population was close to 500,000 before the war, most of them being Kurds.
The Kurdish offensive aimed at not only expelling “moderates” and jihadis, but also reaching the Turkish border which is now controlled by ISIS. If the Kurds manage to do this, they will be able to unite with Kobani enclave which has been successfully defended.
Turkey clearly slept through the rapid changes on the battlefield and is now facing a impossible dilemma: either launch a full-scale war or observe how Syrian forces and the Kurds slowly but surely grind the remnants of jihadi and ISIS forces into dust both in Aleppo province’s north-west and along the border with Turkey. The outcome is not in doubt: Damascus has an overwhelming manpower superiority (which it never had before, not on any sector of the front), jihadi logistics have been destroyed or crippled, and their forces are now surrounded. And then there is the Russian airpower, whose presence is now ubiquitous.
The daily reports that the Turkish army has crossed the border have mostly proved to be fakes intended to exert pressure on Ankara rather than Damascus, Moscow, or the Kurds. For example, before Aazaz, it was Tal-Rifat which was dubbed “the opposition’s last bastion.” But then the Kurds took Tal-Rifat and the propaganda machine focused on Aazaz. That’s the context in which one ought to interpret reports of Saudi aircraft deploying to Turkey. Two fighters with poorly trained crews (as is usually the case with the Saudis), is not exactly a big deal, but it makes one hell of a headline.
Jabhat al-Nusra and others are already prepared to abandon big cities, as they did in Maraa, retreating toward the last available Turkish border crossings in the hopes of not so much re-establishing a firm frontline but rather a propaganda tale about “the heroic defense against the tyrannical regime of Bashar Assad.” There is no more serious fighting around Aleppo or around the city, even in the strategically important power plant area. Government forces supported by Russian aircraft and in liaison with the Kurds are skilfully dismembering, dislocating, and surrounding jihadi and pro-Turkish forces. Therefore the opposition has lost any reason to try to hold parts of Aleppo province.
From the military point of view, we are observing a strategic defeat in a single province. But now we are seeing English-language media come up with astonishing comparisons between the surrounded jihadi forces with the “fighting Sarajevo.” That’s a sophisticated propaganda move. From the Western point of view, Sarajevo also “fought against totalitarianism” and was a Muslim city (whose Serb portions were forced to flee or were killed by that time). Someone even managed to declare a jihad there. In the end, Sarajevo was “saved” by NATO forces and evidently something similar is being proposed for the jihadi portion of Aleppo.
The Turkish artillery bombardments do not appear to be “massed”, in spite of the term being used by the jihadists. In general, the Turkish military still has not done anything noteworthy and it’s not clear it’s about to. The reports of a supposed partial mobilization are coming not from central or southern Anatolia, which is what one would expect, but from the rich cities of Black Sea coast. Specifically, from ethnic minorities which trade with Russia and are worried by the situation. Moreover, the Turkish propaganda machine appears to be aimed at Russian-speakers. The announcements of Turkish mobilization and the impending vengeance against “these Russians” are usually posted by Azerbaijanis and propagated by Ukrainians. Having become de-facto Ankara’s willing collaborators, they ensure a shotgun blast-like spread of these “news”, due to their sincere hatred of “these Russians.”
It’s been said more than once that Turkey’s foreign policy contains too much hysteria and personality factors. But as of right now, the digging of trenches along the border appears to be the maximum which Ankara can offer in the conflict zone. The 200m penetration of Syria’s territory is not so much an “act of aggression” but rather Turkish engineers’ attempt to establish a decent line of defense, since in the desert “national borders” are only notional. It’s entirely possible the decision was made on the level of company commander, and not even the brigade commander.
There are still no reasons to assume that Turkey’s actions mean an invasion or even preparations for invasion. It’s another matter that Damascus might interpret the engineer company’s actions as aggression. Historic examples suggest that wars can be started by lesser provocations. But Damascus would hardly attack Turkish engineer companies without general strategic planning. Ultimately that’s not Syrian army’s zone of responsibility, and the Kurds want to maintain their independence.
The generally charged situation means that any event will quickly assume strategic dimensions, especially after it undergoes suitable propaganda treatment. Including by the dying jihadist forces. Both Damascus and Moscow have enough sources of information to properly assess Turkish actions, intentions, and capabilities in real time, without relying on jihadist exaggerations. The Kurds most likely are in constant contact with Syria’s main military planning centers. The most important thing now is not to do anything hasty.