What’s next after two weeks of Afrin operation?

Turkish soldiers can be seen in this file photo.(Reuters)
Updated 03 February 2018
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What’s next after two weeks of Afrin operation?

ANKARA: At the end of the second week of Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch into Syria’s northwestern province of Afrin, Ankara’s ties with its longtime NATO ally Washington are further deteriorating.
Turkey is expected to push the operation into Manbij, another Kurdish-held city in the east, and then further east to the Iraqi border — a move that is likely to pit the Turkish army against American troops that are deployed in the region as part of the anti-Daesh international coalition.
Turkey is still demanding that the US keep its pledge to stop supplying weapons to the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and to immediately remove its troops from Manbij before Turkey’s planned operation.
But the Pentagon seems to be stubborn on this issue, although YPG is viewed by Turkey as the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party — considered by both the US and Turkey as a terrorist group.
At a news conference on Thursday, Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the Pentagon’s joint staff director, said supplies to the YPG would be retrieved after the conclusion of operations against Daesh. But he also added that the Pentagon condemned “any attack targeting Turkey.”
The latest remarks by French President Emmanuel Macron, who warned against an “invasion operation” of Afrin, also angered Ankara. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said “France cannot teach a lesson to Turkey,” referring to the previous military interventions of France in Algeria.
Some 823 terrorists have been killed so far during Turkey’s operation, while Turkey has lost five soldiers. By clearing key villages and mountains of the YPG, Turkish forces with the support of Free Syrian Army gained full control of a large zone in Afrin’s north.
Over the past 12 days, about 82 rockets have been fired by the YPG into Turkey’s border provinces, killing six people. The rockets targeted civilians and hit locations including a local restaurant and houses, including one occupied by 17-year-old Fatma, who was killed in her sleep.
“These rocket attacks are mainly conducted by mobile vehicles from a Kurdish-held region between Mount Burseya and the Bulbul region with a 100-km long border with Turkey, which makes it difficult for the Turkish army to intercept them in the air,” Sakir Dincsahin, a Middle East expert from Hasan Kalyoncu University in Gaziantep, told Arab News.
“These attacks by a non-state terror group that target civilians have once more showed the legitimacy of Turkey’s operation based on self-defense rights,” he said.
According to Dincsahin, it is still the early phase of the operation, where the mountains and key locations overlooking the Turkish border are targeted while the city center is not yet captured.
“It is likely that the operation will last until the second half of the year, with a de-escalated intensity,” he said.
Dincsahin also noted that against the latest claims of Western powers and the disagreements with the United States over the scope of this operation, Turkey would gain significant diplomatic leverage when the operation in Afrin succeeded.
“Then a consecutive Manbij operation may come up. But at that point Turkey will likely use diplomatic channels as it would have strengthened its hand on the military front by bringing stability to the Afrin region and resettling Syrian refugees back home,” he said.
Experts, however, note that adverse weather and topography conditions complicate the progress of the operation as the area is surrounded by high hills.
Mete Sohtaoglu, an Istanbul-based Middle East researcher, expects that in the coming period Turkey will further support its operation with armed drones equipped for bombing missions.
“The Turkish army is gearing up for urban warfare through implementing a 3D urban model in Afrin,” he told Arab News.
“Accordingly, the aerial photos will be transferred into the computers in real time, and it will enable a detailed preparation for a street-based warfare as the Turkish army is approaching the Afrin city center,” Sohtaoglu said.
He explained: “This relatively new warfare technique for the Turkish army will not only help reduce the casualties, but it will also provide an opportunity to examine all military deployments inside the city, including explosives, from a computational system ahead of an incursion.”
However, according to Sohtaoglu, the rocket attacks from YPG-controlled zones will only stop after Turkey establishes a secure zone along its border with Syria by linking all regions that it captured from the Kurdish militia.
On Friday, Turkish gendarmerie and police special forces were deployed to the Turkey-Syria border for the projected urban warfare in Afrin.


Russia ‘trying to help Syrian refugees to return home’

Russian soldiers distribute aid in the central Syrian province of Homs. (File/AFP)
Updated 17 August 2018
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Russia ‘trying to help Syrian refugees to return home’

  • A buffer zone separates Syria to the east, from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to the west
  • The Russian military police have set up four observation points along the demarcation line on the Syrian side of the buffer zone

MOSCOW: The Russian Defense Ministry said it was coordinating efforts to help Syrian refugees return home and rebuild the country’s infrastructure destroyed by the civil war.
Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev said in a conference call that included Russian and Syrian officials that work is underway to rebuild dozens of Syria’s power stations, schools and other vital institutions.
In Damascus, Syrian Public Administration Minister Hussein Makhlouf pledged the regime would protect refugee property rights and grant returning refugees a year’s deferral from military conscription.
“The Syrian government is working to simplify procedures for refugees who return, repair housing and try to create new jobs,” Makhlouf said, adding that the authorities were also working to streamline legislation to facilitate refugee returns.
He dismissed as hostile “propaganda” claims that some refugees were facing arrests on their return.
Makhlouf called on Western nations to drop their sanctions against Damascus, introduced early in the seven-year conflict, in order to help post-war restoration and encourage the return of the refugees.
Mizintsev said that over 1.2 million of internally displaced Syrians and about 300,000 refugees have returned in the past two and a half years.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian President Vladimir Putin might take part in a summit with the leaders of Turkey and Iran at the beginning of September.
The three leaders met in April at a summit in Ankara where they discussed developments in Syria.
With help from its Russian ally, President Bashar Assad’s regime has expelled fighters from large parts of Syria’s south since June.
Israel has repeatedly pledged to prevent Iran from establishing a military presence along its border. A series of airstrikes that killed Iranians inside Syria have been attributed to Israel.
A buffer zone separates Syria to the east, from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to the west.
The Russian army’s Lt.-Gen. Sergei Kuralenko told reporters on an organized press tour this week how “stability” had returned to the buffer zone.
Apart from “a few problems with Daesh” in its southern tip, the demilitarized zone was “entirely under control of Syrian military police,” Kuralenko said.
“Everything is ready” for the return of UN troops, he said, after the peacekeepers were forced to withdraw in 2014.
After retaking most of the two southern provinces adjacent to the buffer zone, regime forces last month raised their flag inside, above the key border crossing of Quneitra.
The Russian military police have set up four observation points along the demarcation line on the Syrian side of the buffer zone, Kuralenko said, and plan to set up four more in the near future.
They are “willing to hand them over to the UN if it says it is ready to ensure the monitoring of the Golan alone,” he said.