What will Afrin operation’s ‘second phase’ entail?
Former Turkish Chief of Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ discussed the difficulties of carrying out anti-terror operations in city centers on Jan. 27 during Taha Akyol’s show on private broadcaster CNN Türk.
Başbuğ reminded the audience that a 20-30 kilometer-long buffer zone on the Afrin border would be brought under Turkish control in the first phase of the operation. He then discussed the second phase.
“Referring to the second phase, the prime minister has said: ‘We will destroy terrorists located in central Afrin and other regions.’ This means engaging in urban warfare with the terrorist. Is the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) experienced in this? Yes, it is. Silopi, Cizre. Remember those incidents?”
Başbuğ also mentioned the difficulties of urban warfare. “It is very hard to distinguish terrorists from civilians in residential areas,” he said.
“The TSK has experience in these situations. We should have faith in their abilities to plan effectively and carry out the missions in the best possible way... Do they have the technological capacity? Yes, it’s superb. Of course, the most important issue is that which the commanders are currently debating: ‘How can we carry this out with the minimum collateral damage?’” he also said.
Another issue to consider is that the city has a population of 180,000, he said.
You can see Afrin, street by street, on Google Earth.
Afrin is actually composed of two residential sections – the east and west of the Afrin River that runs from north to south.
Two bridges connect Afrin’s residential areas. The line drawn from the northwest to the southeast comes to about 4.5 kilometers in length. The line drawn from the northeast to southwest is three kilometers.
Arab, Kurdish and Turkmens living in the area covered by the lines reveal eclectic ethnic groups living in the city.
One can summarize the reality of the geographical and demographical parameters of the “second phase” of the Afrin operation Yıldırım has talked about. An analysis written by daily Milliyet’s Ankara bureau security expert Tolga Şardan touched on the precautions taken in Ankara against the possible risks urban warfare would produce.
The difficulties stressed in the analysis titled “The cross-border trench operation” is closely related to the information İlker Başbuğ has underlined.
According to the analysis, the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) are busy storing weapons outside central Afrin.
Just as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) did in 2015 in Turkey’s southeast and eastern Anatolian provinces, it is understood that the YPG are setting up booby traps and barricades and building trenches.
One situation that troubles the Turkish authorities is the conventional weaponry the YPG has acquired from the United States.
According to the information Şardan has received, the Turkish Army may use Bren Carriers instead of heavy armored vehicles in Afrin’s narrow streets for increased mobility.
Another vital point that needs consideration is that Afrin is larger both demographically and physically than the areas in Turkey where the trench and barricade combats took place.
No matter which perspective you take, it is logical to predict that a tough mission awaits the Turkish security personnel in Afrin as they move onto the second phase. As we stressed last week, if the U.S. exhorts YPG militants to withdraw from Afrin, that would act as a solution to prevent the possibility of urban warfare there.