Turkish forces and allied Syrian rebels announced March 18 that they have seized “full control” of Afrin, following a two-month offensive against the Kurdish YPG militia in the northern Syrian town and surrounding enclave. One of the three “cantons” that make up the Kurdish autonomous zone of Rojava has now been lost. The statement announcing the seizure of the enclave was published on the Twitter page of “Operation Olive Branch,” as the offensive was officially dubbed. Once “Olive Branch” forces actually penetrated Afrin town, the YPG apparently withdraw to prevent the civilian population from being caught in the fighting. In the prelude to the town’s fall, residents described chaos as fleeing civilians were trapped by artillery and by Turkish air-strikes. The “Nothern Brigade” of the Free Syrian Army was named as the key ground force taking control of the enclave under Turkish direction and protection. (NYT, Syria Direct) Turkey’s official Anadolu Agency also names Syrian Turkmen militia forces as involved in taking the enclave, and explicitly appeals to ethnic resentment, stating: “Arab tribes welcome liberation of Afrin.”
The Movement for a Democratic Society (TevDem), the autonomous governance structure for Rojava, issued a statement pledging to fight on: “The Resistance of the Age has displayed 58 days of uninterrupted sacrifice against the Turkish army and their jihadi gangs. An epic of sacrifice and valiance of historic proportions has been written. The popular resistance still in motion against the invading army and their tools programmed for annihilation has taught a lesson to enemies and dark forces. This resistance continues still. Our people in Afrin have caught the attention of the word with their historic resistance. Our people have set forth that their will can never be broken and never be destroyed by any force.” (ANF News)
Three Turkish soldiers were killed and three others wounded in an explosion on March 22 during a “search operation” in Afrin, according to Anadolu Agency, which uses the word “martyred” in place of “killed.” This kind of propaganda is also evidenced by the Orwellian moniker “Operation Olive Branch.”
Turkey’s quasi-official Daily Sabah portrays the taking of Afrin as practically a humanitarian operation (as well as of course portraying the YPG as a mere arm of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK): “[T]he recovery process continues following the liberation of the Syrian town Afrin from the PKK and its Syrian affiliate, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) terrorists, Turkey is now working to renovate schools in the province.”
The United Nations is taking a very different view, labelling Afrin as “occupied.” Ali Al-Zatari, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria, told AFP: “We cannot access Afrin as it’s an occupied region.” The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect said the people of Afrin are facing “war crimes and mass displacement… There are grave concerns for the fate of ethnic Kurdish civilians at the hands of the Turkish-backed forces now occupying Afrin.” (Rudaw)
Water has been cut off to Afrin for over a week now following the seizure of the enclave’s dam and reservoir by Turkish-led forces, and there is no word that it has yet been restored.
Al-Monitor wrote in a commentary that “Afrin didn’tt turn into ‘Turkey’s Vietnam,’ as the YPG vowed in the first week of the offensive,” but that it might become “Washington’s nightmare,” as the US is caught between NATO ally Turkey and the Syrian Kurdish forces it had been backing to fight ISIS.
But on Feb. 16, in the midst of Ankara’s drive to take Afrin, Turkey and the United States reached an “understanding to normalize ties,” wth Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavu?o?lu announcing the decision to “establish mechanisms” to solve the disagreements between the two allies. In his statement, After his meeting with Rex Tillerson in Ankara, Çavu?o?lu implicitly threatened to next take the offensive to the Kurdish-held town of Manbij if the US does not pressure the YPG to withdraw: “After the YPG withdraws from Manbij, we can take steps with the US based on confidence. First the YPG should leave here.” (Hurriyet)
This was pretty clear evidence of a US “green light” for Turkey’s aggression, and raises the question of whether all Rojava will be turned into a Turkish-controlled “buffer zone“—with Washington’s (at least) acquiescence.
US betrayal of the Rojava Kurds was practically inevitable.