Spotlight: Turkey to launch military operation against Kurds in northern Syria

Source: Xinhua| 2017-07-19 17:56:23|Editor: Yurou Liang
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By Burak Akinci

ANKARA, July 19 (Xinhua) -- Turkey is mulling prospect of launching an offensive to combat the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria's Afrin, while the United States and Russia obstruct such an operation.

Turkish army has reinforced its positions at the border since last week. Its artillery fire also adds credence to predictions that war is around the corner.

Turkey considers the presence of the YPG militia as a threat to its national security because the group has links with the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) listed on many countries' terrorist organizations list.

Afrin is a town located in northern Syrian city of Aleppo and belongs to a de facto autonomous region controlled by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), also a terrorist group according to Ankara.

On Tuesday, a statement released after the National Security Council chaired by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that "every necessary measure will be taken to counter the threat at the Syrian border," in a clear reference to the YPG.

The Turkish council noted in the statement that weapons given to the YPG "by various allied countries" have wound up in the hands of the PKK, proving Turkey's claims that the two organizations are same one.

"We will never allow the establishment of a terror state along our borders," the statement added.

The YPG has denied any links with the PKK, which has been fighting a bloody war for self-rule against Turkish government since 1984. Latest army operations against PKK rebels have dealt a heavy blow to this organization inside Turkey.

Reportedly, Ankara is trying to secure green light from Russia for the Afrin operation, in return for Turkey's assistance with a Russian safe zone at Idlib. There were media reports that Russia had agreed to this deal and was even preparing to set up a joint base with Turkey at Idlib.

Meanwhile, Kurdish media outlets reported that because the United States shot down a Syrian plane back in June, Russia had decided to help Turkey, preventing the YPG from crossing to the west of the Euphrates with U.S. support and forcing the Kurds to cooperate with the Syrian regime.

What has always been overlooked in the tense politics between Turkey and the Kurds is that an amplified Turkish military presence that disturbs both Russia and Syria.

No wonder the Syrian foreign ministry denounced Turkey's shelling of Afrin to the United Nations, accusing Turkey of being a "partner" in terrorism and of pursuing an "expansionist policy."

As for Russia, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova summarized Moscow's attitude: "Nobody involved in the Syrian process should threaten that country's laws, sovereignty and territorial integrity."

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu held talks in Ankara on July 4 and also met with Erdogan as part of the ongoing diplomatic efforts on the Syrian crisis.

Experts argue that Turkey is aware of the importance of Afrin as a strategic location for funds and weapons for the Kurds and that is why Ankara intends to conduct a military operation in this region.

"Turkey's first option is surely not to launch an all-out offensive against Afrin. But Turkey can do it as the last resort while conducting active and multilateral diplomacy with all parties involved in the crisis," Haldun Yalcinkaya, the professor of international relations at the Ankara-based TOBB University of Economics and Technology, said to Xinhua.

He said the Astana peace talks on Syria are "crucial" for Turkish demands.

"The international community may see it as an ethnic conflict between Turks and Kurds, but it is not the case. It is well documented that YPG has close links with the PKK, they are intertwined," pointed out the former army officer.

According to Syrian opposition sources, Russia and Turkey are planning a comprehensive aerial operation on Idlib in order to drive al-Nousra, an affiliate of al-Qaeda, out of the city, after which Turkish and Russian forces will be based in the city as a mean to create a safe zone.

The Turkish army entered northern Syria in August 2016 in its operation Euphrates Shield with the stated aim of clearing "terrorists" from its border areas, mentioning the Islamic State, YPG and PYD.

Ankara wanted to halt Kurdish advances along the border that would have linked the Afrin region with Kobane And Cizre in the east.

"Turkey cannot allow that a terrorist group roams this territory and enjoys support of our allies," said a Turkish diplomat to Xinhua, criticizing the controversial decision of NATO ally U.S. to support the YPG with military equipment in order to fight IS, a move that has angered the Turkish government and prompted diplomatic tension between Ankara and Washington.

"It is very wrong to prefer one terrorist organization to another. These arms could very quickly fall in the arms of the PKK," said the source on the condition of anonymity.

The U.S. has announced a detailed list of arms and equipment supplied to YPG militia would be handed over to the Turkish authorities, but this seems not to convince Ankara.

"Syria is a war zone and in such a conflict-torn country, arms can very quickly change hands without the U.S. noticing it. So in the end we will combat PKK rebels attacking our security forces with our NATO ally's weapons," said the Turkish source.