By Elijah J. Magnier – @ejmalrai
Turkey today launched the “Olive Branch” military operation against the Kurdish region of Afrin, north-west of Syria. The code name was released by the Turkish Chief of Staff who explained that the operation aims to prevent the spread of the People’s Protection Units and the Democratic Union Party along the Syrian borders with Turkey, which represented a menace to the Turkish national security. The US attitude towards the Kurds in Afrin was quite interesting, because the US General Vottel declared himself “not concerned about what is happening in the Kurdish enclave in the north-west of Syria” where Washington used the Kurds to attack ISIS. It is no longer surprising that the US look after its interests rather than its allies, as indeed happened in Kurdistan Iraq when Erbil declared its independence; it was promptly abandoned by the US.
But what are the details agreed before the beginning of the operation, allowing Turkey to venture into an area under the Russian control? And how did things get so far, pushing Turkey to venture into an area under Russian influence with military police, and following a clear threat from Damascus to shoot down any Turkish aircraft, with Russia strengthening its positions inside the city the day before the beginning of the Turkish operation “Olive Branch” against Afrin?
The Kurds fought under the guidance and control of US forces against ISIS in the north of Syria and suffered hundreds of dead from Manbaj to Dabak and even Raqqah. These joint US-Kurdish forces have also agreed with ISIS– following the total destruction of the city by the US Air Force – to secure the withdrawal of thousands of militants in exchange for leaving the ISIS capital, Raqqah, and delivering it without a fight. ISIS also agreed to leave the very rich energy field and other villages east of the Euphrates River to the US-Kurds forces. The Syrian army was trying to reach the oilfields when ISIS pulled out, and was offered a “buffer zone” by the US along the borders as long as the militants limited their attacks towards Russian allies only (the Syrian army and its allies) and did not attack the Kurdish forces.
The US establishment declared its intention to stay in Syria despite the general defeat of ISIS (even if a pocket is still under the terrorist group’s control in the US-controlled area east of the Euphrates on the Syrian-Iraqi borders). The US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the aim of its forces was to limit the Iranian influence, giving contradictory statements about the defeat and non-defeat of ISIS in Syria. This position was clear enough to Russia, that the US was aiming to challenge the Russian presence and to stay in a country which was under Moscow’s protection.
Moreover the US excuse to occupy part of the north-east of Syria to – according to Tillerson’s statement -“prevent Iran from spreading its influence” is not convincing because Iran’s presence in Syria goes back to 1982 and its influence has increased directly due to the six years of war.
Turkey was upset by the widespread Kurdish presence along its borders and asked the US to withdraw all lethal weapons from the Kurds. Washington promised to do so but Turkey discovered later that the US promise had not been fulfilled and that the Kurds were in possession of laser guided anti-tank missiles and anti-air missiles, representing a direct threat to the Turkish, Syrian and Russian forces.
Turkey demanded that Russia and Iran, in direct contact with Damascus, allow its troops to help to put an end to the US plans in Syria, further weakening the Kurds. Damascus asked Russia and Iran to give the Kurds the possibility to take distance from Washington by accepting the presence of the Syrian Army in the cities of Manbij and Afrin in the place of the Turkish invasion.
Turkey, despite the gathering of Turkish forces along the borders and its announcement of the beginning of the military operation, waited for the Russian/Iranian green light. Russian officials met with other Kurds to lay down the serious Turkish intention and a way out of the critical situation by forwarding Damascus’s proposition- that was rejected by Afrin, whose Officer in Charge maintained his belief in US support, apparently unwilling or unable to learn from what happened to the Iraqi Kurds at Erbil).
An undisclosed understanding was reached where Ankara stops providing support to al-Qaeda and its allies in Idlib, and no longer considers the Syrian Army operation east of Idlib and towards the city itself as a violation of the de-escalation agreement reached in Sochi last year. On the other hand, Russia will pull out its contingent from the city and will not interfere with the Turkish army “Olive Branch” operation.
The Syrian leadership and its allies asked Russian air support to open a corridor towards the two surrounded cities of Al-Fawa and Kafriya, besieged since the long years of war. However, the Russian leadership rejected the demand and asked them – to the surprise of Damascus and its allies – to be patient, because the goal is not only to liberate Al-Fu’a and Kafriya, but also the entire city of Idlib. The Russian President Vladimir Putin is determined to fight al-Qaeda in Syria to strengthen his country’s position in the world to fight terrorism.
As reported last year, and now confirmed, the Kurds of Syria and Iraq by relying on America and its volatile promises have now become the biggest losers in the Middle East, thanks to America’s inexperienced leadership and lack of stable understanding (and therefore credibility) in world affairs. The actual US leadership seems to rely heavily on military power as a way to maintain its influence: they apparently do not possess that ability, especially important in the Middle East, to weave alliances and strengthen friendships.
What is happening now is a very serious blow to the United States by its Turkish ally, a fellow member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Turkey is using the “olive branch” to strike America’s Kurdish ally below the belt, a further blow supported by Russia against the inexperienced US, who have unwisely decided to play in Moscow’s Syrian courtyard. America has no allies in Syria except the Kurds of the north-east in Hasaka and Deir al-Zour. But these allies are about to suffer more partition. This will leave the US occupation forces very vulnerable in an extremely hostile environment.