Turkish forces converge on Syria border; attack on Afrin imminent

A photo made available by the Dogan News Agency shows Turkish military trucks transporting armored vehicles to reinforce the border units in Sanliurfa close to the Syrian border on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 17 January 2018

Turkish forces converge on Syria border; attack on Afrin imminent

ANKARA: Turkish troops and tanks were seen on Wednesday near the Afrin region of Syria’s northwestern border with Turkey, suggesting Ankara’s long-threatened attack on US-backed Syrian Kurds is imminent. Turkey’s top security board also convened on Wednesday, under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to discuss the prospective military offensive on Afrin.
The latest statements from Turkish officials suggest Ankara’s planned military operation may even extend beyond Afrin to the distant Arab-majority town of Manbij, west of the Euphrates, which is currently under the control of the predominantly Kurdish militia group Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), dominated by the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
YPG is seen by Ankara as a terrorist organization and the Syrian offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
In a meeting with his US counterpart Rex Tillerson on Wednesday in Vancouver, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey’s “precautions” against YPG forces in Syria are not limited to Afrin, but could expand to Manbij.
Experts are divided over the likelihood and feasibility of such an operation, but they all agree that it could cause an abundance of problems for Turkey in terms of its relationship with other regional players.
Metin Gurcan, a security analyst at the Istanbul Policy Center, underlines the strategic location and regional significance of Manbij for both America and Russia.
“Manbij is a buffer zone and a bridgehead where Russia and the United States have interests,” he told Arab News. “The north of Manbij is under the control of the YPG, while the southern part is held by the (Syrian President Bashar) Assad regime.”
According to Gurcan, threatening an offensive against Manbij may be Turkey’s strategy to escalate tension “in a controlled way” and to show “determination” ahead of the military operation.
He stressed that any operation on Manbij is dependent on what happens in Afrin, and that an assault of Afrin is unlikely without the consent of Moscow.
“In military terms, it would be unfeasible and very tough to conduct an operation first by advancing to the west, and then turning in the opposite direction. It would be less effective because of its extended scope,” he noted.
“In Manbij, Turkey runs the risk of upsetting both Russia and the US. In that case, Ankara would have to negotiate with these two countries, and make concessions. This would further complicate the situation,” Gurcan explained.
According to Gurcan, Turkey is increasingly the subject of a power struggle between Moscow and Washington in the north of Syria.
On Tuesday, Ryan Dillon, spokesperson for the US-led coalition, announced that the Pentagon would not oppose any Turkish operation against Afrin, as the canton does not fall under the operation area of the coalition, a statement Gurcan describes as “a critical maneuver.”
“By taking an indifferent approach vis-a-vis Turkey’s impending operation in Afrin, the Pentagon has transferred the problem of the ties between Turkey and the YPG to Russia, while the latter has been unexpectedly quiet about Turkey’s military preparations, and has not withdrawn its soldiers from Afrin,” he said.
However, Serhat Erkmen, a Middle East expert at the Ankara-based 21st Century Turkey Institute, does not share Gurcan’s opinion that Turkey’s talk of a possible Manbij operation is just rhetoric.
“If Turkey can afford to (upset) the US, such an operation is completely possible, considering that the town of Manbij currently faces a lot of ethnic and management problems,” Erkmen told Arab News.
Manbij is of considerable strategic importance, Erkmen explained: “It controls the water supply to the region, which may be at grave risk of severe water shortages for drinking and agricultural purposes if instability continues,” Erkmen said.

Explosion targets a tourist bus, injures at least 17 near Cairo’s Great Pyramids: Security sources

Updated 56 min 18 sec ago

Explosion targets a tourist bus, injures at least 17 near Cairo’s Great Pyramids: Security sources

  • There were no reports of deaths
  • One security source said they included South African nationals

CAIRO: An explosion targeting a tourist bus injured at least 17 people near a new museum being built close to the Giza pyramids in Egypt on Sunday, two security sources said.

The sources said that most of the injuries were foreign tourists, with some social media users posting pictures of a damaged bus and what looked like injured tourists.

One security source said they included South African nationals.

There were no reports of deaths. A witness, Mohamed El-Mandouh, told Reuters he heard a "very loud explosion" while sitting in traffic near the site of the blast.

Pictures posted on social media showed a bus with some of its windows blown out or shattered, and debris in the road next to a low wall with a hole in it.

It is the second to target foreign tourists near the famed pyramids in less than six months. In December, three Vietnamese tourists and an Egyptian guide were killed and at least 10 others injured when a roadside bomb hit their tour bus less than 4 kilometres from the Giza pyramids. 

Egypt has battled militants for years in the Sinai Peninsula in an ongoing insurgency that has occasionally spilled over to the mainland, which often targets minority Christians or tourists.

The attack comes as Egypt's vital tourism industry is showing signs of recovery after years in the doldrums because of the political turmoil and violence that followed a 2011 uprising that toppled former leader Hosni Mubarak.

(With Agencies)