The Damascus government and Kurdish forces have reportedly agreed to join forces in Afrin to counter an ongoing Turkish offensive. Syrian state media report that the deployment of pro-regime troops is imminent.
Damascus will deploy its militia fighters to Afrin “within the next few hours” to reinforce Kurds against the Turkish offensive, Syrian state agency SANA reported on Monday morning.
The move aims to “support the steadfastness of its people in confronting the aggression which Turkish regime forces have launched on the region,” SANA said, citing its correspondent in Aleppo. Syrian state television also announced that the deployment was imminent, without providing details.
Read more: German Kurds protest Turkey’s Afrin assault in Cologne
Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reacted by saying any Syrian fighters deployed to “cleanse” the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its Syrian offshoot the Democratic Union Party (PYD) would have “no problems,” but if they enter to defend the Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey considers a terrorist organization linked to the PKK, then “nothing and nobody can stop us or Turkish soldiers.
“This is true for Afrin, Manbij and the east of the Euphrates River,” Cavusoglu added. Manbij is a second Kurdish-controlled enclave in Syria close to the Turkish border.
Last month, Ankara launched an operation against the YPG which controls Afrin.
Read more: Turkey’s military offensive against Kurdish-held Afrin: What you need to know
Erdogan and Putin to ‘cooperate in fight against terrorism’
The Turkish and Russian presidents discussed the latest developments in Syria and agreed to cooperate in the fight against terrorism, according to Turkish broadcaster Haberturk. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the phone on Monday, with the Syrian regions of Afrin and Idlib the main topic of conversation.
Monday’s developments come a day after a senior Kurdish official told Reuters that the Kurds had reached a deal with Damascus.
The agreement, supposedly brokered by Russia, further complicates the conflict in Northern Syria as rivalries and alliances among Kurdish forces, the Syrian government, rebel factions, Turkey, the United States and Russia become more entangled.
What the Kurds said
The agreement allows paramilitaries allied with the Syrian government to enter Afrin to support the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in fending off Turkish forces, the DPA news agency reported, citing an anonymous source.
Badran Jia Kurd, an adviser to the Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria, told Reuters that Syrian army troops would deploy along some border positions in the Afrin region.
Jia Kurd said the agreement with Damascus on Afrin was strictly military with no wider political arrangements, but added: “We can cooperate with any side that lends us a helping hand in light of barbaric crimes and the international silence.”
Jia Kurd said there is opposition to the deal that could prevent it from being implemented.
Read more: Are Turkey and Russia at odds in northern Syria?
What does this mean? The Damascus government and Kurdish forces each hold more territory than any other side in the Syrian civil war. Their cooperation could be pivotal as to how the conflict unfolds.
What is the Afrin conflict? Ankara launched an air and ground offensive on the Afrin region in January against the YPG militia. It views the YPG as terrorists with links to an armed insurrection in Turkey. For the Turkish government, attacking Afrin is about assuring geopolitical interests and domestic security.
Are Kurdish goals compatible with Syria’s? President Bashar al-Assad’s government and the YPG have mostly avoided direct conflict. However, they have occasionally clashed and have very different visions for Syria’s future. Both believe in a possibility for a long-term agreement, but Assad has said he wants to take back the whole country.
How powerful are the Kurds? Since the onset of Syria’s conflict in 2011, the YPG and its allies have established three autonomous cantons in the north, including Afrin near the Turkish border. Their sphere of influence has expanded as they seized territory from the “Islamic State” group with the help of the US. However, Washington opposes the Kurds’ political ambitions, as does the Syrian government.
What happens next? Jia Kurd has said forces are to arrive in two days, but the deal has not been confirmed.
Read more: Who are the Kurds?
Why do the Kurds want help from the Syrian government? “Over the years of the conflict, the Kurds have managed to manoeuvre about, sometimes with the rebels, sometimes with the regime,” said Bente Scheller from the Heinrich Böll Foundation. “We also saw a long time back that not only the United States wanted to support them as a large international power, but Russia did too. So the Kurds looked for states and powers that support them because they have a lot at stake.”
Is the Kurdish-Syrian alliance a beneficial one? “I think in the case of Afrin at any rate,” said Scheller, “because there it is very clear that Turkey has decided it has to carry through with an offensive, and the Kurds are in a very difficult position here. Of course, they have support from the other Kurdish-dominated parts of Syria, but obviously they feel this is not enough. There have also been air raids by Turkey and I think this has resulted in their turning to the regime for help.”
How does the future look? “As the Syrian conflict escalates and becomes more complex, more individual states consider it necessary to intervene,” said Scheller. “Turkey claims it needs to clear all terrorist activity from the other side of its border, but this does not justify crossing the border with its own military.”
“We are not likely to see peace for a long time.”