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.