Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Afrin Conundrum

Even a year back, Afrin - Kurdish enclave located in North Western Syria - may not be famous outide the country. This city is located less than hundred kilometers from Syria-Turkey border. However, new geopolitical game for supremacy of northern Syria changed all equations.

Kurds, who are the biggest ethnic minorities without having a country to call their own - were widely persecuted in Western Asia. Fall of Saddam in Iraq finally gave them something - a financially viable and stable autonomous territory. Then came Arabian Spring and Syrian revolution. Quick fall of biggest cities forced a withdrawal of forces from Northern border leaving the place open for Kurds. They made full use of it by  establishing a stable area. Then came IS, which made quick territorial gains in Syria as well as in Irag. Suddenly IS territories looked bigger than many countries. However the atrocities they commited turned tglobal voice against them. Again Kurds rose in to prominenace and they become an ally for US for defeating IS.

This entire situation didn't give any happiness to another major stakeholder in Syrian revolution - Turkey. Growing Kurdish influence close to their border raised alarm bells in Ankara. Problem is some Turkish areas are dominated by Kurdish people; Turkey is in a state of war in those areas. Many Kurdish leaders - like Abdullah Ocalan(founding member of Kurdish Worker's Party - PKK) - are already in jail. New found power and territorial control of Kurdish fighters (People Protection Units - YPG) is something which Turkey can't digest. They fear the possibility of Kurdish nation from Turkey to Syria to Iraq. Even Iran is not free from this fear.

Turkey is determined to break this rising power. Now Turkish fighter jets are pounding Afrin (Operation Olive Branch); Turkish Army is standing at border; ready to move in. What make the matter complicated is, YPG and US allies in war against IS. US even planned to raise an army - with core as YPG militia - to protect the area. This is more than what Erdogan can accept; rising nationalism in Turkey is not helping the matter either. Turkey's all out fight against YPG - a major piller in US plans for Irag and Syria - will push two major NATO powers in opposite sides. Turkey under Erdogan is not going to relent anytime soon.

This entire situation plays in to the hands of two other stakeholders in Syria - Assad Government and Moscow. Moscow's relation with Turkey is not good, after they shot down Russian fighter planes. Relations are slowly improving now. But in order to get a free hand in Afrin to pound, Turkey might have to do some consessions somewhere else. Which will help the government to take control of more territories.

Earlier Turkey wrested control of 100km territory west of Euphrates from IS. But this time, they are going to face battle hardened YPG fighters trained by US. More than that, its a Kurdish city and inch by inch city warfare will take its toll on any professional army. What more, YPG can't simply surrender the city to Turkish and militia supported by them. The thing is, if YPG fighters withstood Turkish onslaught and keep the control of Afrin then it is going to be a game changer. Ofcourse it is not going to be the end. Government forces and Russian assets will be moving towards Afrin sooner or later. Here US is going to be in a tough situation, it's difficult to go against their NATO ally; at the same time its difficult to abandon an ally in the middle of a battle field.

I guess US negotiating with Turkey and make some kind of deal in Kurdish areas will be beneficial for US, Turkey as well as Kurds. In case they can't reach a deal then it will be beneficial for Assad and Moscow.


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