Russian forces did not interfere when 72 Turkish jets Saturday night pounded 100 Kurdish YPG targets in the north Syrian enclave of Afrin. Early Sunday, Jan. 21, Kurdish and Syrian opposition sources confirmed that Turkish troops trying to enter Afrin clashed with the Kurdish militia on the northern and western edges of the enclave and were pushed back. Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan continued to issue dire threats, saying, “Beginning from the west, step by step, we will annihilate the terror corridor up to the Iraqi border. No one can say a word. Whatever happens we don’t care anymore.”
The Turks have cynically dubbed their assault on the Kurds, “Operation Olive Branch.” Kurdish leaders are reported to have opened secret negotiations with the Assad regime for opening the door to the Syrian army to enter their enclave on the assumption that Erdogan will not wish to open a new warfront with Damascus. Turkey’s deputy prime minister Bekir Bozdaq said that Ankara would preserve Syria’s territorial integrity after it achieved its objective and Turkish troops would cross back home.
DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the Turkish army has so far not gone further than exploratory steps in its campaign against the Kurdish YPG in Afrin. A major offensive with large numbers of foot soldiers and tanks has not taken place as yet. Erdogan appears to be pulling his punches to test whether the US will come to the aid of its Kurdish allies. But the question still open is: Will he go through with his threat to capture Kurdish lands spanning northern Syria from the Turkish border to the Syrian border with Iraq? If he does and succeeds in pulling off this ambitious campaign, Turkish troops will override the region declared just a few days ago as being under American military protection and secured by a new US-trained and armed Border Defense Force of 30,000 men. Will the 2,000 US military personnel deployed in the bases there then intervene? Russia has made its position clear by refraining from interfering with the Turkish air offensive although its forces control the skies over Afrin.