MESOP NEWS Syria Daily: A Turkish Garrison v. Kurdish Militia in the Northwest?

By Scott Lucas – eaworldview – 29 June 2017 – June 29, 2017 – Claims are circulating that Turkey is stationing ground forces at a base in northwest Syria, amid the rising possibility of battles between Turkish-supported rebels and the Kurdish militia YPG. The claims put the Turkish forces atop Sheikh Barakat Mountain, west of the town of Darat Izza in Idlib Province (see map). On Monday the Turkish daily Yeni Safak, a supporter of the Erdoğan Government, proclaimed, “Final Preparations for Turkey’s Afrin Operation” against the Kurdish canton in the northwest.

The site described a two-front operation in which Turkish soldiers would accompany the Free Syrian Army in an advance on the eastern flank, moving on the town of Tel Rifaat and the Menagh airbase — 15 km (9 miles) from the Kurdish center in Afrin — while FSA units would move both from the west in Azaz near the Turkish-Syrian border and from the east in the town of Mare’ in northern Aleppo Province.

Daily Sabah, also a supporter of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, follows this morning with “Turkish Military Build-up at Border Ready to Target YPG-held Afrin, Tal Rifat”.

Daily Sabah repeats the Yeni Safak description of operations and, citing a “military source”, says that Turkey “is likely to kick off the operation to sweep PYD and YPG terrorists from Afrin this weekend”.

Without providing any evidence that ground forces are already inside Syria, a Daily Sabah journalist asserts, “Ankara has already set up dozens of military bases in Syria to ensure security, including bases in al-Bab and Azaz”.

Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak told reporters on Wednesday, “In order to stabilize the region, the Afrin region needs to be cleared of terror elements and terrorists. Turkey is continuing to work with its counterparts to achieve this end, with the help of the Foreign Ministry and the National Intelligence Organization.”

Even if the claims of a Turkish garrison are not true, the reports could point to a substantial FSA offensive with the assistance of Turkish artillery strikes, armored vehicles, and special forces.

The YPG has responded with declarations of reinforcements. An officer told Kurdish outlet ARA News:

The YPG and SDF [Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces] today deployed more forces and armoured vehicles in northern Aleppo. We will respond to any Turkish attacks on Rojava [Syrian Kurdistan]-Northern Syria. The Turkish troops and Turkey-backed Islamists will be a main target for our forces in the area.

Both a pro-rebel site and a Turkish outlet say Russian forces have left the Kafr Jannah camp near Afrin, but the pro-opposition al-Dorar disputes the claim.

Tensions have risen between the Turkish-supported rebels and the Kurdish YPG as both sides push back the retreating Islamic State in northern Syria. Turkey intervened from August 2016 in Operation Euphrates Shield, helping the FSA take much of northern Aleppo Province. That advance challenges any Kurdish aspirations of linking the Afrin canton in the northwest with the expansion of their territory v. ISIS in the northeast, reaching the city of Manbij in eastern Aleppo Province.

Turkey considers the YPG and its political umbrella, the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Party (PYD), to be part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK. Fighting Turkish security forces for more than 30 years, the PKK is considered a “terrorist” group by the US, but Washington is a key backer of the YPG through its support of the Syrian Democratic Forces against the Islamic State.

The reports of a military buildup have been accompanied by stories of the arrest of “four PKK terrorists” who crossed from northern Syria to southeastern Turkey to “stage an assassination attempt” on a Turkish MP in the ruling Justice and Development Party.