ANKARA: Turkey’s offensive against a Kurdish militia in northern Syria will enter a second month Tuesday having made little progress while straining relations with Washington and The European Union.
Ankara on January 20 launched a cross-border air and ground operation against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) supporting Syrian rebels in the Afrin region.
Turkey views the YPG as a Syrian offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
Although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly hailed the operation’s success, analysts argue Ankara’s forces have made slow progress.
The Turkish army has said 32 Turkish military personnel have been killed in the process.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor, Syrian rebels and Turkish forces have taken 35 villages since the start of the operation, but most border Afrin.
Meanwhile, Turkish security expert Abdullah Agar said the “Olive Branch” operation forces captured around 300 square kilometers (120 square miles) of territory.
Since the operation began, the Observatory said 238 Olive Branch fighters (including Turkish soldiers) and 197 YPG fighters have been killed along with 94 civilians.
Ankara strongly denies that there have been civilian casualties, saying its armed forces are showing utmost care not to harm civilians.
Kurdish YPG forces
Jana Jabbour, professor of Political Science at Sciences Po university in Paris, said the Turks were “struggling to move forward” because of the “organization of the Kurdish YPG forces and their combativeness.”
She added it was important to distinguish between the political rhetoric, “even political propaganda,” and the reality on the ground.
On the ground, Turkish fighting was now focused around the area of Arab Wiran in northeast Afrin, the UK-based Observatory said.
If this is captured, pro-Ankara forces would control 50 continuous kilometers (31 miles) on Afrin’s northern border with Turkey.
The operation is likely to be further complicated after the Syrian state news agency SANA on Monday said pro-government forces were expected to enter Afrin to counter the Turkish offensive.
In response, Erdogan told Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in a phone call there would be “consequences” if the regime entered the region, according to Turkish media.
Jabbour said she doubted the regime would move into Afrin because “behind the scenes Turkish forces and Syrian forces are talking to each other,” adding Russia would not allow the regime to enter direct confrontation with Turkey.
Turkey views the YPG as a terrorist offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), blacklisted by Ankara, the United States and the European Union.