Reports are coming through that a convoy of five tanks and multiple military vehicles have been dispatched to Turkey’s southern border with Rojava, northern Syria. This move by Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is presumably in response to the Kurds neglecting to heed his earlier threats of military response if they did not withdraw from the disputed territories of Manbij and Afrin. Both cities were originally Turkish-controlled until their fall to the Islamic State and eventual liberation by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
While a large amount of Turkish military forces were already manning positions along the border, a state-run media outlet reported that the convoy was sent in as reinforcements to the existing forces. Despite the lack of confirmation from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) on the Turkish deployment, Turkish forces had already begun bombarding outlying villages near Afrin with indirect fire and air strikes. The Turkish-supported terrorist organization formerly known as al-Nusra Front, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, also began assaulting the region with bombardments. President has hinted in the past that the nation of Turkey was preparing for a major offensive against the Syrian Kurdish forces, even daring to directly threaten coalition forces should they get in the way.
In a statement at the President’s provincial congress, he said, “God willing, in the coming days we will resume the operation of cleaning [our] southern borders from terror in Afrin, which we began with the Euphrates Shield Operation.” During the ISIS conflict, Turkey took part in Operation Euphrates Shield, where it launched a major offensive to capture areas near Aleppo, Jarabulus and territories outside Manbij. The other half of this operation was an attempt to prevent further “Kurdish terror” and halt any more Kurdish advances from being made by the SDF according to Erdogan.
Later on the same day, the President gave another rousing speech where he made the bold claim that,“If the terrorists in Afrin do not surrender, we will destroy it,” and, “We will destroy those looters that have come together, believing [they] have formed an army, within a week.”
While the Syrian Democratic Forces are composed of multiple factions and ethnic groups, the YPG is the dominant power within its ranks. This alliance of forces in the Rojava region has been supported and built through the efforts of the U.S.-led coalition formed to combat the threat of the Islamic State. While the coalition utilized its extensive air power to aid the SDF, it has also provided vast amounts of weapons and training for its soldiers. At this time about a quarter of Syrian land is under the control of SDF forces who are getting closer to becoming a professional army on a daily basis.
Turkey has for a long time held the United States in condemnation for its continued support of the Kurdish alliance and believes by extension the U.S. is directly supporting the terrorist-labeled PKK group. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has long been waging a guerrilla war with the Turkish government and has direct ties to the YPG. While shelling of this nature has occurred in the past by Turkish forces, spokesman for the YPG, Rojhat Roj, claimed that this time around, the shelling has lasted much longer and been of a greater intensity. He told local news outlets that, “We are seeing preparations,” and, “The YPG will defend itself against any aggression.”
Officials from Turkey had said on multiple occasions that the nation will not allow a “terror corridor” to operate along its southern border and that it would take military action to prevent such a thing from taking root. The co-president of TEV-DEM’s executive body, Aldar Khalil, declared that the conflict in Syria could be prolonged if Turkey attempts to, “stir up problems in some areas.” The Movement for Democratic Society’s foreign relations officer, Saleh Moslem, claimed that if Turkey does launch a full-scale invasion of Kurdish territories, “The Kurdish people will rise up as a whole. It will be total warfare.”
Manbij Military Council representative Sherwan Darwish said, “We have full knowledge that the Syrian regime and the mercenaries of Euphrates Shield work day and night to hit the civil peace in Manbij and create chaos by moving their sleeper cells,” in reference to the present day situation in Kurdistan. He also claimed that his council and the SDF will work tirelessly to protect all of Rojava’s citizens regardless ethnicity as their society is one of diversity.
Featured image of U.S.-Turkish military staff meeting courtesy of AP