“When the SDF was shocked”- An Azaz Activist’s Perspective on the Afrin Operations – by Abd al-Qadir Abu Yusuf

30 Jan 2018 09:30 AM PST –  Translator’s preface [Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi]: Operations by the Turkish army and Syrian rebels against the Syrian Democratic Forces’ [SDF] enclave of Afrin in northwest Aleppo province has brought to the forefront the issue of relations between international powers regarding the Syrian crisis, especially Russia, Turkey and the United States. Abd al-Qadir Abu Yusuf, a well-connected independent media activist based in the key rebel-held north Aleppo countryside town of Azaz, offers his perspective on these matters. I have known him since 2014 when he was the spokesman for the Northern Storm Brigade, which is presently part of the Shami Front that is participating in the Afrin operations against the SDF. Like many people in Azaz, he is a supporter of the ‘Olive Branch’ operations against the SDF in Afrin. The views expressed in this piece are solely his own and do not necessarily reflect my opinions or those of Syria Comment.

When the SDF was shocked- by Abd al-Qadir Abu Yusuf

The dreams of the PKK- bearing the title of SDF in Syria- broadened when it saw Turkey enter into a great crisis because of its great disagreement with Russia and bringing down Russian aircraft, so it strove to seize half of the north Aleppo countryside through an alliance with Russia that responded to the bringing down of the aircraft by striking the allies of Turkey: the Free Army.

And what increased Turkey’s crisis is America’s retreat to the backseat, the withdrawing of MIM-104 Patriots and the lack of entry of the NATO alliance with Turkey into its crisis with Russia. The pressure also increased on Turkey through the broadening of SDF’s operations in east Syria with absolute American support for operations against the Dawla organization [Islamic State], including the Turkish red line west of the Euphrates: Manbij.

The SDF bet on Turkey’s weakness, its self-preoccupation away from the Syrian portfolio and the American and Russian support for it to weaken Turkey and its allies, and its enmity to Turkey began appearing in the fields of the areas it seized, the most recent being in Raqqa after the celebration behind Ocalan’s photo.

The greatest boon for the SDF came in Saudi support for it militarily, materially and in media, as Saudi aimed for two things:

– Confronting the Iranian expansion through SDF.

– The existence of an ally for it on the borders with Turkey to pressure it as a harsh response to the Turkish alliance with Qatar adjacent to Saudi.

But as an outcome by necessity, Russia realized its urgent need for Turkey to control the Free Army factions through de-escalation agreements to be able to limit the operations to being against the Dawla organization in the depth of the desert, something requiring the entire force of the regime army and its militias as well as seizing Aleppo to be a launching base towards the east of Syria. And this is what happened when Russia gave Turkey a free hand towards the city of al-Bab in exchange for ending the Aleppo file. Here began the first signs of trust returning anew between Turkey and Russia after the completion of the first stage to move to a new stage politically and militarily.

So after the nearing of the end of the operations against the Dawla organization, the forces of the coalition and Russia came to a head in the distribution of influence in the regions of oil and gas, and Russia and Turkey’s interests coincided again to strike America’s influence represented in SDF.

To understand the matter further, we must be aware that Russia’s solution plan comprises the following:

– Making the Russian process (far removed from Geneva and coming to Geneva) succeed with a solution accepted by all sides that compels the UN to implement it.

– Relying on Turkey as a part of the solution of the Syrian portfolio and working with it on the basis that it is the only guarantor for the opposition: something that has granted Turkey wider influence in the Syrian portfolio.

– Distancing America’s hand from the opposition portfolio and opening the Salama-Aleppo road subsequently to begin reconstruction and reinvestment as Turkey is a powerful state economically and the only possible pathway for rebuilding Syria.

– Agreeing that the PKK is America’s hand in the region and that it threatens the security and interests of Russia and Turkey, and giving Turkey a free hand in the matter through withdrawing Russian forces from Afrin and Manbij and not allowing the regime to defend them or stand in the face of the Turkish operation, which is what we have presently noticed.

– Distancing Turkey and its allies away from America to guarantee the lack of repetition of any military operations that harm the positions and interests of Russia in Syria.

And with this Russian-Turkish closeness that has come near to resolving most of the Syrian portfolios, America has realized the danger of the loss of its influence over the factions in Syria and lack of presence of any ability to use the PKK in confronting the regime despite the plans that it put in place to train forces in opposition to the regime on the SDF lands to attack the regime and Russia’s interests.

In addition, we have Turkey’s distancing of the SDF from any view towards the solution in Syria and Russia’s acceptance of this that has led to the SDF’s departure from the political and military labors and its departure from the negotiations as American leverage.

A month ago, America began to realize the error of its policies represented in relying on SDF and neglecting Turkey’s interests that found the counter to it in Russia, so it offered in the beginning for Turkey a safe zone for the north of Syria that would be under Turkish influence, but Turkey rejected it as a result of the lack of its enduring trust in the prior experiences with America and the lack of collapse of what it had reached with Russia. Then America announced that the weapons offered to SDF would only be directed to fight the Dawla organization, and that any use of the arms against another side would lead to the cutting off of support from SDF, followed by its declaring of the PKK’s Syrian wing, at the head of whom is Saleh Muslim as head of the party, as being on the terrorism list.

All this is in the interest of inducing Turkey to realign itself with America in Syria. It [America] has also cleared the way for the Dawla organization to launch stinging attacks on SDF positions in Gharanij in a battle purely of attrition in which there is no loser or beneficiary: that battle in which the SDF has lost up to 300 fighters during days and its ranks have been split as a result of a disagreement between the people of the region who fight with SDF and the Kurds of SDF who accused the people of the area of not sincerely fighting in Gharanij.


In conclusion:   As the SDF is shocked by America and Russia clearly abandoning it in Afrin and Manbij and begins to realize that the battle of Afrin is a losing one, so we see a slacking in military performance on its part in the northern mountains of Afrin, and all it is trying to do today is to buy time for the possibility of a change of the international balances that will perhaps save them in Afrin and Manbij.


The crunch time remains the principal factor in the Turkish and Free Army’s battles in Afrin and Manbij and any delay in the operation will lead to unsatisfactory