Syrian Kurds Call for Mass Mobilization as Turkey Steps Up Assault

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

Kurdish authorities in northeastern Syria called for a mass military mobilization on Monday as Turkey’s incursion into Afrin continued, with artillery strikes expanding to other nearby cities.

“The will of the people cannot be vanquished. We call on all our noble people to defend Afrin and its pride, and to contribute in all related activities,” the Kurdish authorities said in a statement received by Reuters.

“The Turkish state has been trying to enter north Syria for days, but it will not be able to. We have forces in Afrin, thousands. … They are protecting the border and the people. Afrin is trained to endure,” local commander Siyamand Walat said, adding that soldiers from across the region were prepared to move into Afrin as needed.

According to Reuters, “Thousands of fighters chanted and raised their weapons in solidarity with Afrin” at the rally Walat was addressing, some 215 miles east of the besieged city. However, Reuters went on to note that moving those fighters through territory controlled by the Syrian government to join the front lines against the Turks might be difficult. Perhaps that would ultimately depend on how angry Syrian President Bashar Assad becomes at Turkey’s incursion.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu declared on Tuesday that Turkey does not want to “clash” with the Syrian regime, its Russian sponsors, or American forces, but only to fight the “terrorist organization” that has been “constantly firing provocation shots” into Turkey from northeastern Syria.

Cavusoglu described the Kurdish YPG militia, a vital U.S. battlefield ally in the war against the Islamic State, as an extension of the violent PKK separatist party in Turkey. He said this terrorist entity has become a greater threat than ISIS or other jihadi groups in Syria.

Disturbingly, Cavusoglu referred to the entire region of Manbij as a theater for Turkish operations in his comments. Manbij is much larger than the city of Afrin that has been directly assaulted by the Turks and their Syrian proxies, and unlike Afrin, it has several thousand U.S. military personnel deployed within it.

The Kurdish news agency Rudaw reports Afrin residents bracing themselves for war, preparing shelters, and stockpiling food for a long siege. “God willing, the war will not last long. We pray for strength and courage for the YPG,” said one resident.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Tuesday that thousands of civilians are attempting to flee the Turkish assault, but Syrian government forces are preventing them from leaving Afrin for the relative safety of Kurdish-held districts in Aleppo.

Rudaw describes the Turkish offensive as “intensifying,” citing reports of more Turkish tanks heading into Syria and the first official reports of Turkish casualties in the operation. A Kurdish militia spokesman told the Associated Press that more towns along the Syrian-Turkish border have come under artillery attack, in what the spokesman described as an effort to divert YPG forces away from Afrin. The YPG spokesman insisted that the Turks and their allies have not made “any real progress” in Afrin yet.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted in a televised speech on Monday that the operation will continue until its objectives are met. Oddly enough, he said his “single goal” is to “win hearts.”

“We are determined. Afrin will be sorted out. We will take no step back. We spoke about this with our Russian friends. We have an agreement,” Erdogan said.

As for the United States, he said his government has consulted with Washington but “couldn’t convince the U.S. of some things.”

“How long have you been in Afghanistan? Is that over in Iraq?” he snapped at the U.S. in his speech, in what seems like a step backward from his declared goal of winning hearts.

Erdogan also took a rhetorical step backward from his statement that Turkey has no interest in running an occupation, saying, “There is no maths in such a war. How dare you ask us? We will stay as long as we need, we have no interest in staying there, we know when we will leave.”

An analysis by Security Studies Group postulates that Turkey has another objective: preventing the Kurds from becoming an “effective partner for the United States who might replace Turkey as our invaluable ally in the region.” As SSG notes, the Pentagon’s plans for completing the destruction of ISIS and preventing its resurgence rely heavily on the YPG as such an effective partner.

Erdogan’s crackdown on dissent within Turkey continued on Tuesday with reports that at least 55 people have been detained by police for writing social media posts that supported the YPG. Another 30 were reportedly detained on Monday, including some journalists and at least one elected official.


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