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.


Erdogan picks ministers for Turkey parliamentary race to boost his AK Party’s chances

Updated 7 min 27 sec ago
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Erdogan picks ministers for Turkey parliamentary race to boost his AK Party’s chances

  • Many cabinet members including the energy, defense, foreign and interior ministers were named this week
  • The party, in power since 2002, remains Turkey’s most popular political force

ANKARA: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has picked prominent ministers to run for parliament next month, strengthening the ruling AK Party’s chances of winning a majority but putting their future role in government into question, party officials say.
Many cabinet members including the energy, defense, foreign and interior ministers were named this week by the party to run for parliament in the June 24 poll, where the Islamist-rooted AK Party faces a stiff challenge from an opposition alliance.
While boosting the list of candidates, the move could affect the shape of the future cabinet because lawmakers will not be able to hold ministerial posts under the new presidential system, unless they resign their seats.
The party, in power since 2002, remains Turkey’s most popular political force, but recent opinion polls have suggested it could struggle to win an absolute majority, even with the support of its nationalist MHP ally.
The latest fall in the lira, which has lost more than a fifth of its value against the dollar this year, could also work against Erdogan if voters fear the government is pushing prices and the cost of living higher.
Erdogan is still widely expected to win the presidential election to be held the same day. While the presidency will take on greater executive authority afterwards, an opposition-controlled parliament could vote down legislation.
“Erdogan wants to win a parliamentary majority in this critical election with a strong list,” said one AK Party member running for parliament.
A survey by MAK pollsters, viewed as sympathetic to the ruling party, showed on Wednesday that the parliamentary race is absolutely balanced, with the AK Party together with the MHP winning exactly 50.0 percent. In the presidential vote, it saw Erdogan winning 51.4 percent.

MINISTERIAL CHANGES
The move to throw high profile ministers into the parliamentary race could have a major impact on the composition of next cabinet.
“Under normal circumstances, those who are in the (parliamentary) list will not be appointed ministers,” a senior AK Party official, who declined to be named, told Reuters.
Finance Minister Naci Agbal was not named as a parliamentary candidate, and three sources said he was expected to remain in the post-election cabinet.
However, Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci is expected to leave the cabinet and run for a mayoral office, the sources said, while the future of Mehmet Simsek, deputy prime minister with responsibility for the economy, was undecided.
Investors have been watching closely for signals about Simsek’s role. As a former investment banker in New York and London, he is seen as one of the most investor-friendly members of a government at odds with economic orthodoxy.
The Turkish lira, already one of the weakest emerging market currencies this year, has lost another 13 percent against the dollar since Erdogan said in London last week that he planned to take greater control of the economy and that the central bank would not be able to ignore signals from the new executive presidency.
“Erdogan will make the last call on Simsek. Although Simsek’s policies are sometimes criticized, everyone knows that it’s hard to replace him,” an AK Party official said.
Simsek congratulated those on the party’s parliamentary list on Tuesday, adding in a tweet: “Onwards, no stopping.”
Officials say economic management is expected to be overseen by one of five vice presidents in a cabinet made up of 14 ministers — down from the current 21.
The changes have not yet been finalized, however, and may not be completed before the election, one of the AK Party officials said.