The Turkish military began “Operation Olive Branch” on Saturday in Syria’s Afrin to eradicate the YPG that it sees as a security threat on its borders.
On January 20, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch to clear Syria's Afrin region of the YPG/PKK.
The air and ground offensive started days after the US announced plans to continue to provide military support for the YPG in Syria, the terror group which they allied in their fight against Daesh, even though Daesh is almost completely defeated in the country.
Key points about the operation in Afrin:
1. Turkey says the YPG has ambitions of carving out an autonomous territory near its southeastern border
The YPG with the help of US military began its fight against Daesh in 2014. It controls a quarter of the Syrian territory now. Turkey says the YPG is using the support of the global powers to retain its grip on northeast Syria and that its fight against Daesh is an excuse. Three years later, Daesh has been virtually eradicated from the region, the YPG is still being backed by the US. That raises questions about its main objectives in the region and the continuous US support it garners.
On January 13, the US-led coalition forces announced that they will form a 30,000-member "Border Security Force" that also included YPG members near Turkey's border in northern Syria.
2. Turkey’s biggest concern is the security threat from the YPG
The YPG is the Syrian offshoot of the PKK, which has been designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US and EU. PKK has been fighting the Turkish state for more than 30 years in a bloody campaign that has left more than 40,000 dead, including civilians.
Attempts have often been made by the YPG/PKK to infiltrate into Turkish territory through the Afrin Mountains. They have also made continuous efforts to support terrorism in Turkey by smuggling militants, arms, and ammunition from Syria to Turkey.
3. Turkey says the operation is important to liberate the people of Afrin
In June 2015, YPG/PKK attempted an ethnic cleansing of Arabs and Turkmen living in Tel Abyad, forcing many of them to migrate. So their existence in northern Syria threatened the local Arabs and Turkmen, and also the Kurds who don't support the YPG. Most of the Syrian who fled from YPG-held territories sheltered in Turkey.
4. Afrin is important to prevent larger regional threats
Any moves by the YPG to claim more territory in northwest Syria would mean that Turkey’s efforts during the Operation Euphrates Shield and the steps taken in the de-escalation zone in Idlib to stabilise northwest Syria will go to waste.
The establishment of Idlib’s de-escalation zone, endorsed by Turkey, Russia and Iran conflicted with the terror group’s interests. When Turkey established observation points in northern Idlib, neighbouring Afrin to the north, it became a sore spot for the group as Ankara says they wanted to advance to the Mediterranean.
Also, the Turkish Armed Forces launched Operation Euphrates Shield between the two YPG-held areas, Afrin and Manbij, in August 2016 along with the Free Syrian Army. The operation has not only cleared the area of Daesh, but also prevented the YPG/PKK to create a corridor between the two YPG spots.
YPG controls a 65 percent of Turkish-Syrian border. Turkey's priority was to prevent a solid land under control of YPG on the border, since it would threaten Turkey’s connection with the Arab world and Syrian Turkmen.
The group has constantly attacked the Turkish army since then.
5. Operation Olive Branch can shift the dynamics of Syria’s war
When the US increased its support for the YPG in northeast Syria, it angered Turkey and led it to cooperate with Moscow in 2016. Despite the two countries’ supporting the opposing sides, both became guarantors of four de-escalation zones agreed in Astana talks.
However, it has occasionally prevented Turkey to fight against the YPG, and also insisted on including the group in the international meetings to talk about future of Syria. That proves that Russia never absolutely agreed on Turkey’s stance on the group, which was another point of concern for Ankara on the future plans of the YPG.
On the other hand, Russia, who controls Syrian air space, has agreed with Turkey on Turkish jets using the air space for the operation on Afrin against the YPG. And a statement from Russian Defense Ministry blamed Pentagon on taking provocative steps with providing modern arms to the groups it support in Syria, referring the YPG.
While continuously supporting the YPG, the US negates any possibility of the conflict between the NATO allies. Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said, “Allies do not always see eye to eye, but they are willing to work together.” But General Joseph Votel, the Commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM) said Turkey’s operation on Afrin would be a distraction to the US-led coalition’s fight against Daesh in Syria.
And on the second day of the operation, US Department of State called Turkey to exercise restraint in a statement. "Secretary Tillerson told Turkish and Russian counterparts in phone calls on Saturday that the US is very concerned about the situation," it added.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that the operation in Afrin would be completed in a very short time and that Syria’s Manbij would be the next destination.