The People’s Protection Units (YPG) are believed to control a 70,000-square kilometer area in Syria. The largest part of this land under YPG control stretches from “east of the Euphrates” to “the Iranian border” (area highlighted in yellow in the map).
This is a large swath of land, a “terror corridor” covering almost our entire southern border.
The map above shows how the Cizre, Kobani and Afrin “cantons” encircled Turkey from the south before Turkey launched Operation Euphrates Shield in 2016.
These “cantons” are inspired entirely by the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) and are based on a model developed by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) jailed leader, Abdullah Öcalan.
This model - a totalitarian system, a mixture of the regimes of Stalin and Gaddafi - has been put into practice in those cantons. It commits “ethnic cleansing” in the areas under its control, even against the Kurds who do not support the system. Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani has long complained about these YPG entities in northern Syria, which consider him a “feudal traitor.”
This totalitarian corridor that encircled Turkey from the south was damaged by the Euphrates Shield Operation, which started in August 2017 and lasted for around six months.
The area highlighted turquoise on the map is the area secured by Turkish forces in the Euphrates Shield Operation. The map shows how the operation cut through the “corridor” or “encirclement.”
The Euphrates Shield Operation was initially planned to expand to an area of up to 5,000 square kilometers. In the end it did not go beyond al-Bab for political reasons. The area of the military operation was limited to 2,000 or 2,500 square kilometers.
The area of the operation could not be expanded further because the U.S opted to launch the offensive on Raqqa not with Turkey but jointly with the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD). This joint offensive also helped the YPG gain strength.
Manbij, to the east of the Euphrates, is also under YPG control. Manbij fell to the YPG thanks to Bashar al-Assad, Russia and the U.S., which all either turned a blind eye to the group when it moved to capture Manbij or actively supported it.
Operation Olive Branch
Afrin, of course, was handed over to the YPG by al-Assad under a secret deal years ago. Al-Assad still has animosity towards Turkey, but he also uses the YPG when his own forces prove ineffective.
As shown in the map, under the first phase of Operation Olive Branch “a safe zone” is being created in Afrin in the areas bordering Turkey. Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım has described this as a “safe zone 130 kilometers wide and 30 kilometers deep.”
This safe zone will widen the hole in the terror corridor and prevent militants from infiltrating into the southern Turkish border provinces of Gaziantep and Hatay.
Details of second phase of the operation have not yet been revealed. Whatever happens next depends on military plans and, in particular, political developments.
East of the Euphrates
“The main trouble is east of the Euphrates,” retired General İlker Başbuğ recently said. Başbuğ, Turkey’s former chief of general staff, noted that east of the river Euphrates is the U.S.’s area of influence over the YPG, while west of the Euphrates is under Russia’s influence.
That is why before the Afrin operation Turkey had to discuss its plans with Moscow. The U.S., meanwhile, simply said it does not care about the west of Euphrates as it has no presence there.
The PYD-YPG dominates vast areas, especially east of the Euphrates where it cooperates closely with the U.S. That is what makes Manbij, closer to the east of the Euphrates, strategically more important than Afrin, with both a military and a political importance.