Afrin incursion promises ramifications beyond border province

Forces loyal to the Assad regime entering Afrin in support of the YPG have reportedly retreated after coming under Turkish artillery fire.
Tuesday 20/02/2018
A convoy of pro-Syrian government fighters arriving in Syria's northern region of Afrin on February 20. (AFP)
A convoy of pro-Syrian government fighters arriving in Syria's northern region of Afrin on February 20. (AFP)

TUNIS - Forces loyal to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad entering Afrin in support of the embattled Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) retreated after coming under artillery fire, Turkish media reported.

Turkish state news agency Anadolu said: “Pro-regime terrorist groups that are trying to advance towards Afrin retreated to about 10km… from the town because of the warning shots.”

The pro-government militia is understood to be the semi-regular National Defence Force.

Reacting to Syrian media reports of an imminent operation in Afrin, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag warned Damascus that it faced “disaster” should it intervene in support of the Kurds.

The region has come under a sustained assault by Turkey and the Free Syrian Army for more than a month. Determined local resistance, entrenched defensive positions and the mountainous terrain around Afrin have slowed what Ankara had seemingly hoped would be a short campaign.

The YPG had appealed to Damascus “carry out its sovereign obligations towards Afrin and protect its borders with Turkey from attacks of the Turkish occupier.”

There has been no response from Washington, Moscow or Tehran. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed on February 20, following a phone call with Damascus’s principal backer, Russian President Vladimir Putin, that any potential regime offensive had been called off. “The (deployment) was seriously stopped yesterday,” he said.

The Afrin Kurds of the YPG are closely tied to the US partners within the region, The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). At the time of the Turkish incursion into Afrin, it was thought that many within the YPG were hoping Washington might do more to halt the advance of its NATO ally.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson towards the end of a recent visit to Ankara, however, suggested the United States would be re-engaging with Turkey after relations nearly broke down over America’s continued support of the Kurds.