Claiming to be defeating ‘militants’ in Afrin, the YPG/PKK is criticised for indiscriminate attacks and civilian deaths.

After Turkey and the Syrian opposition launched Operation Olive Branch to rid Afrin of the PKK terrorists, local governance and local security apparatuses were established in the area.

However, while the PKK fled from Afrin, some cells remained in the region and the neighbouring Tel Rifaat region, functioning as a launching pad for the terrorists.

Continuing PKK attacks in the region are causing damage and sabotaging the stability and safety of Afrin. The PKK, considered as a terrorist organisation by the US, EU and Turkey, is promoting its terrorist attacks under two different propaganda channels, one called ‘Wraths of Olives’, the other ‘Afrin Liberation Forces’. 

While the terrorist's claims are exaggerated, a deeper look into the numbers and possible countermeasures is necessary to provide safety and stability to Afrin residents.

According to the PKK propaganda channels ‘Wrath of Olives’ and ‘Afrin Liberation Forces’, the militants have conducted 34 attacks in Afrin and northern Aleppo since November 2018 which is an average of two attacks every five days.

While the majority (16) of the attacks were allegedly conducted with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), at least three attacks resulted in the torture and the execution of Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters. In another attack, the PKK propaganda channel admits to having tortured and executed an alleged agent who was living as a civilian in northern Aleppo.

According to PKK propaganda, the terror group claims to have conducted four assassinations and four different raids against the Free Syrian Army and the Free Syrian Police. Additionally, the PKK has reportedly used at least three anti-tank guided missiles in Afrin and northern Aleppo targeting Free Syrian Army fighters.

Lastly, PKK propaganda claims to have used two vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices against the Free Syrian Army and to have killed one fighter with a sniper. The PKK also claims to have killed 64 FSA fighters, two Free Syrian Police officers, and to have injured 34 FSA fighters and three Turkish soldiers. However, the numbers given by the PKK have to be taken with a grain of salt.

The language used by the PKK propaganda outlets and their visual materials is also worth analysing. While the ‘press releases’ systematically label the FSA as mercenaries, it speaks of an occupation by Turkey criticising Turkey for displacing civilians.

The YPG front group seems keen to repeatedly mention that their campaign will go on and that they will target every ‘mercenary’. The ‘Wrath of Olives’ channel, in particular, uses radical visual propaganda method in which the terrorists explicitly show killed and tortured people, reminiscent of the barbaric propaganda methods of ISIS.

On the other hand, the ‘Afrin Liberation Forces’ channel, which has become more active since December 19, is trying to present a more professional outlook by publishing every statement in English, Arabic, Kurdish and Turkish and avoiding barbaric visuals such as those shown by ‘Wrath of Olives’, which has actively operated for six months.

Despite the PKK propaganda, the reality of the PKK campaign is entirely different. The terrorists have targeted several civilians in Afrin and northern Aleppo resulting in their deaths. On December 16 alone the PKK killed at least nine people, including civilians in a car bomb at the Afrin market contrasting with their claims to only target "militants".  

On March 19 2018, for example, a PKK booby-trap killed seven civilians and four FSA fighters. More recently, a bomb attack in Afrin killed three civilians.

The attacks by the YPG/PKK in Afrin region are a serious source of concern for the local people. Ola Elderi, an Afrin resident told me: “We are tired of the attacks by the PKK. We want peace.”

Another Afrin resident, Nasir Fuad, who lost two of his nephews in the blast, told Anadolu Agency that YPG/PKK have targeted people who had refused to offer their support to the terror group. "We were happy because they had left but they did not leave us alone even when they are gone,” Fuad said.

On the other side, the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Police in the Afrin region are becoming increasingly professional and more capable of providing security, regularly opening cadres for new recruits, with the number of applications sometimes ten times higher than available vacancies. Applicants to become a police officer in Afrin mainly come from local Afrin residents and people displaced from Ghouta and Homs by the Assad regime.

The Free Syrian Police in Afrin has to provide security for the residents, and to do so the organisation is manning checkpoints to prevent terrorist attacks.

While the city of Afrin and many other towns and villages in the Afrin province have reached a level of stability and safety, the mountainous regions and the PKK pocket in Tel Rifaat are enabling the terrorists to use it as a launch pad to conduct attacks in rural areas.

While the mountains in Afrin provide natural protection, the PKK-pocket in Tel Rifaat is under the protection of the Assad regime and Russia. These dynamics prevent the security apparatus in Afrin from rooting out future terrorist attacks.

Additionally, the capabilities of the Free Syrian Police in Afrin seem to be limited as the organisation needs the active support of the Free Syrian Army to locate and eliminate PKK hideouts in the mountains of Afrin. Until now, the security apparatus against the PKK in Afrin has been reactionary.

All in all, the PKK is intensively trying to sabotage local governance in Afrin and portraying it as guerrilla warfare and resistance. The exaggerated claims of attacks by the PKK in Afrin have to be cautiously analysed.

The PKK has long profiled their attacks within the “Wraths of Olive” campaign in a manner similar to Daesh to scare off the local governance and local security apparatus in Afrin.

However, the PKK attacks in Afrin are neither effective nor numerous enough to be labelled as guerrilla warfare and is unlikely to have the results the terrorists are hoping. As the PKK attacks attempt to make life difficult, it is the local Kurdish population and the forcefully displaced people in Afrin who suffer.

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