Peacebuilding beyond Afrin
“Operation Olive Branch” reached one of its strategic targets on the night of March 18. The town of Afrin was taken by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) from Kurdistan Workers’ Party/Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (PKK/YPG) groups without a tough clash or civilian casualty. It is a method used by groups in Syria way too often. Have we not seen the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) evaporate suddenly in Raqqa? There is more than meets the eye.
The TSK has undoubtedly pushed for a very delicate and detailed operation for the past two months. It has not only gained the full support of the Turkish public but has also erased doubts inside AK Party (Justice and Development Party) circles about its military might, strategic thinking and operational capabilities. Those who have made it a habit to bash the Turkish army on everything that is wrong with Turkish democracy suddenly see it as the builder of peace and grassroots democracy in Afrin. And this is a good sign.
“Operation Olive Branch” has become a matter of honor for the TSK. While it was cleansing itself from the wounds of the July 15th coup attempt, the TSK has also shown its capability to command and operate with police, gendarmarie and village guards under the same organizational roof in a very wide geography. Turkey’s fighting heroes have shown our neighbors, like Iran and Israel, that it is still vigilant and able to deliver targets.
But according to academics who cover the area, the YPG’s move might be more strategic than we think. For the first time in its 40-year history, the PKK and its offshoot the YPG have behaved like a conventional army. It stored hardware, used Hezbollah-like tactics and withdrew from a city where it held deep political roots. This might be the beginning of a political process.
Dr. Can Kasapoğlu and Sinan Ülgen have written this in the most current version of the EDAM Report: “Although the YPG/PYD’s military capacity is currently dwarfed by that of the Lebanese Hezbollah, the ongoing uptrend in key hybrid warfare capabilities strongly hint at the prospects of reaching such a level in the next decade, if it continues unchecked.”
The United States, from the last two years of the Obama Administration, has argued for Turkey’s military intervention inside Syria. Now, it looks like it is putting more cakes and icing on the table. With a proposal that would enable Turkey to place small military bases in northwest Syria, the U.S. is actually looking for opportunities to keep an eye on Russia and Iran’s activities in the region. East of the Euphrates, the YPG/PKK will do the same.
All the signs show us Syria has become the Germany of a new Cold War and the Berlin Wall is replaced by the Euphrates River. Unsurprisingly, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the AK Party seem to have chosen the old NATO ally rather than the regional powers, despite all the anti-U.S. rhetoric. So, the question comes back to the table. Will there be a new Marshall Plan for Syria? Who will pay for it? And is Turkey just in it for construction plans?
May all of our brave soldiers who have put their lives at risk and died, rest in peace. Turkey is stronger with their relentless efforts and sacrifices. But the bigger work is just beginning for all civilians who are decision makers.