Saturday, July 8, 2017

Turkey with rebel allies prepare for offensive against Kurds in Syria

About 20,000 members of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) along with Turkish troops who support them are reported to be massing for a new military operation in the Afrin region of northwestern Syria.

The region is under control of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) according to the Turkish newspaper Sabah. The YPG are regarded as a terrorist group by Turkey but at key allies in the battle against the Islamic State by the United States. The first targets of the operation are said to be the town of Tall Rigat and the nearby Minaq airbase the newspaper claims. The offensive is to be launched from Idlib westward and Azaz, Kaljibrin and Marea eastward. Turkey is said to be consulting with Moscow on the operation. On Sunday Turkish President Recep Tayyip is to hold talks with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
The Afrin area is located in the province of Aleppo and belongs to what the Kurds consider the autonomous area of Rojava in the north of Syria. Back in late August of 2016 Turkish forces together with their Free Syrian Army with US-led coalition air support cleared out the Islamic State from the town of Jarabulus on the border and also from the surrounding areas. The operation was called the Euphrates Shield. Both the Kurds and the Assad regime were critical of the operation. After Jarabulus was retaken the offensive continued to the southwest. The city of al-Bab was taken. The campaign ended March 29 and the goals of the operation were said to be met.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak said: "Afrin needs to be cleared of terrorists with regard to both Turkey's security and the region's security. Turkey is continuing to work with its counterparts to achieve this end. Otherwise nobody can guarantee the security of Azaz, Mare, al-Bab and Idlib. Turkey's diplomatic efforts are continuing to this end." The terrorists in this case are the YPG not the Islamic State. The Turks are said to have moved long-range artillery into the region.
A Syrian Kurdish YPG commander, Sipan Hemo, claims that they want to "liberate" the area between Azaz and Jarablus that is held by the FSA backed by Turkish troops. Hemo did not give any details of the YPG plan or say when it would begin. Although the Turkey-backed rebels seized the area from the Islamic State Hemo said he regarded Turkey as an occupying force in the area. Hemo's statement was distributed on a social network feed by Naser Manour a senior official in the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The YPG is a key component of the SDF. There was already an exchange of fire between Turkey and the YPG near Azaz last Tuesday, Turkey claims it is sending more troops, vehicles and equipment into the area in preparation for its own offensive. Kurdish officials warn that any attack on the area by the Turks and its allies will distract from their offensive against Raqqa still held mostly by the Islamic State.

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