The US’s approach to the Afrin operation
Speaking to reporters in Algeria, Erdoğan responded to recent messages delivered by a number of Western countries regarding Syria. Below are some key messages I compiled, based on remarks from the president and some of the committee officials:
- Turkey will continue “Operation Olive Branch” in Syria’s northwestern district of Afrin without stepping back. There is no hesitation about entering Afrin city center, which security forces will enter to clear militants of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and members of the Democratic Union Party (PYD).
- Special Forces of the armed forces, the gendarmerie forces and the police forces, who have gained considerable experience in face-to-face clashes with militants in residential areas in southeast Turkey in recent years, will cooperate to clean Afrin.
- All necessary measures will be taken and calls will be issued to prevent any harm to civilians, though militants are believed to be using civilians as shields during the operation. As a result, measures to try to prevent this situation and evacuate civilians safely are among the plans of the operation in Afrin city.
‘US approach is same’
Despite recent official talks between the U.S. and Turkey, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Ankara, Washington’s approach remains essentially the same: It is keen to stop “Operation Olive Branch” in Afrin, stopping Turkey from entering the Afrin city center and also preventing any future operation in nearby Manbij.
The U.S. has said that the United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Syria also applies to the Afrin operation. When the State Department recent said Turkey should “read the resolution more closely,” it actually meant that “Turkey should stop the operation.”
However, speaking to reporters Erdoğan maintained that the resolution does not concern Afrin but is related to the Syrian regime’s hostilities in Eastern Ghouta. Evidently, Turkey will not halt it operation in Afrin because of this resolution.
Summit in Istanbul
Meanwhile, a critical meeting on the future of Syria is set to be held in Istanbul soon with the participation of Turkey, Russia and Iran. This summit is of crucial importance for the next steps to be taken in Afrin, and is particularly important in terms of its impact on the later Geneva process.
There are signals that French President Emmanuel Macron also wants to be actively involved in the process. Turkey has shared details of the situation in the field and its opinion on Syria with France at the presidential level. If Macron also wants to step in, including participating in the summit in Istanbul, Turkey will assess the situation.
As Erdoğan also made clear, it is important to keep emphasizing that Turkey did not start “Operation Olive Branch” for land in Afrin or Manbij. The aim was to remove any situation in which the PKK, the PYD, or the YPG in Syria and Iraq can constitute a threat to Turkey.
In order to achieve that goal, it seems that the struggle will be long-running.