A spokesman for the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), an U.S.-allied militia currently under attack by the Turkish military, claimed on Friday that the group’s fighters had successfully thwarted all attacks against them in “Operation Olive Branch.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the operation last weekend in response to an announcement by the Pentagon that some YPG fighters would participate in the creation of a “border security force” to prevent Islamic State (ISIS) sympathizers from joining the jihad in Syria. Erdogan considers the YPG, who played a key role in the liberation of Raqqa from ISIS, a terrorist group.
Erdogan has deemed the invasion of Afrin, an area with no known ISIS presence, necessary in the war against terrorism and threatened to send troops as far as Manbij, Syria, where U.S. troops are present. The possibility of the Turkish military having the capacity to spread themselves so far across the map of northern Syria appears significantly minimized if claims by the YPG this week are confirmed.
YPG spokesperson Rojhat Roj told the Kurdish outlet Bas News on Friday that “that the entire Turkish ground attacks from five axes have been successfully repelled.” Rog claimed all “Turkish military advances have now been blocked with several troops killed.”
“25 people have been killed and 53 injured up to now,” the spokesperson noted.
Bas News did not independently confirm Roj’s claims, but they are consistent with expectations critics have of a clash between the battle-hardened YPG—the group recently expelled ISIS from Raqqa, its “capital” – and the significantly handicapped Turkish military. Following the July 2016 failed coup against Erdogan, which Erdogan claimed began in the military, the Turkish armed forces have lost 40 percent of their senior officer corps. As columnist Caroline Glick notes, “Kurds, ISIS and Syrian regime forces have all destroyed Turkish tanks. The Kurds have nabbed Turkish intelligence officers. Turkey’s power projection capabilities are weak.”
Neither the Turkish military nor Erdogan’s civilian government has given any indication that Operation Olive Branch is failing. The military has instead issued reports claiming that hundreds of YPG “terrorists” and alleged Islamic State members have fallen to the Turkish army in Afrin. The pro-Erdogan newspaper Yeni Safak reported Friday that Turkish forces claimed the operation is “successfully continuing as planned” and that Turkish soldiers “destroyed 23 targets—among them weapon pits, shelters, and ammunition depots—of the PKK/KCK/PYD-YPG and Daesh terrorists Thursday night.”
The Turkish military considers the YPG indistinguishable from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a U.S.-designated Marxist terrorist organization. American officials have repeatedly affirmed that Turkey has “legitimate security concerns” in fighting the PKK without questioning Turkey’s affiliation of the PKK with the YPG.
Both the YPG and the U.S. State Department have rejected claims that the Turkish military killed ISIS terrorists in Afrin. President Donald Trump reportedly warned Erdogan to avoid “destructive and false rhetoric” in a phone call with the Turkish leader this week, a statement Ankara claims Trump never issued.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert affirmed on Thursday that the White House version of events is the accurate one. “The call readout that was provided by the White House was very specific, it was very detailed, and it was firm. And I think it expressed both the President and the Secretary’s extreme concern about the situation in northwestern Syria, in the Afrin area,” she told reporters.
While the U.S. military has not yet intervened in Afrin, and the Trump administration claimed Turkey has “legitimate security concerns” in the country, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has referred to the invasion as a “distraction” from the more important struggle against the Islamic State.
“The violence in Afrin disrupts what was a relatively stable area of Syria,” Mattis argued this week while on a visit to Indonesia. “It distracts from the international efforts to ensure the defeat of ISIS, and this could be exploited by ISIS and al Qaeda, obviously, that we’re not staying focused on them right now.”