Starting on January 20, the “antiterrorist mission” under the name “Olive branch” develops at a slow pace. On separate sectors of the front against the Kurdish “People’s Self-Defense Forces” (YPG), Turkish-Islamist forces advanced to a depth of 7 km. For almost a month of fighting, the 25,000-strong group, with air support, massive shelling and raids by Turkish special forces, failed to take control of a single large settlement of Afrin.
Turkey’s military campaign against “Kurdish terrorists” takes a protracted character, although initially it was possible to hear about the plans for a fleeting assault on the city of Afrin , located in the center of the same region from the military and political leadership of the country. The Turks and allied Islamist militants are still forced to fight for the peripheral cities of the Kurdish canton, for example, Jinderes and Raju, to the west of its administrative center. As the Kurdish sources reported on 13 February, the central Afrin quarters for the first time since the beginning of the Turkish operation were subjected to massive artillery fire.
The General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces divided the zone of Operation Olive Branch into four sectors in Afric: the districts of Bulbul, Shinkal and Sheikh-Havruz in the north, Raju and Sheikh-Hadid in the west, Jinders in the southwestern sector of the front and the Bersaya highlands in the north- east. The offensive on all these directions is synchronized, conducted almost simultaneously, which requires a high level of coordination and coherence of actions between the Turkish military and the SSA militants. Obvious malfunctions in the management of the 25,000-strong strike group have not been fixed to date. Meanwhile, the growing fighting losses in the ranks of the “Olive Branch”, especially in its “Turkish segment,” indicate that the operation is developing on the negative scenario for Ankara.
The deviation of the current campaign from the parameters of the previous mission of the Turkish army in northern Syria, during the operation “Shield of the Euphrates” against the terrorist group DAISH (“Islamic State” , IS, ISIS) can not be overlooked. First of all, in the view of irretrievable losses among the Turkish military. As they move towards the center of Afrin, they are increasingly forced to engage in direct fighting with YPG fighters. The first days and weeks of military operations, when the Afrin front line was actually only the SSA fighters, were replaced for the Turkish army by a “field routine”. As a consequence, the protracted nature of the operation, coupled with the progressive level of losses in personnel, instils a certain uncertainty in the command of the Olive Branch. It was faced with a completely different combat texture in Afrin than the one that was presented under the anti-Guilite “Shield of the Euphrates” (August 24, 2016 – February 24, 2017).
The Turkish-Islamist coalition beat out IS militants from the Syrian Al-Baba, which became the extreme southern point of the Euphrates Shield, only six months after the start of the campaign. The city of Dzherablus, lying in the north of the province of Aleppo at the border, the Turks and SSA took on the run (already the day after the start of the operation – August 25), without encountering a serious resistance of terrorists. The latter did not try to resist the advancing enemy in all directions, preferring to retreat to more fortified defenses and only to counterstrike them against the Euphrates shield. Unlike the IS, the Kurdish YPG is fighting the Turkish-Islamist group along the entire front line, clinging to every square kilometer. Kurdish commanders, like their “colleagues” in the Turkish General Staff, understand that Ankara will not have those six months to systematically suppress the enemy’s resistance.
During their previous operation, no one interfered to the Turkish actions and did not fit with the deadlines. Moreover, at separate stages of the “Euphrates shield” they received reconnaissance and air support from the American troops in the region, and at the final stage of the mission – from the Russian military security services. In relation to the “Olive Branch” two leading external military forces in Syria are Russia and the United States, and they are very negative.
Moscow is at least not delighted with Turkey’s unquenchable thirst to crush the spine of “Kurdish terrorism” in Afrin during a military escalation across Syria. The cease-fire regime, reached by the guarantor countries (Russia, Iran and Turkey), between the Syrian government troops and the “moderate opposition” armed factions at the end of 2016, has been desperately balancing the abyss in recent weeks.
Washington has its own reasons for severely critical perception of the actions of the NATO ally. Syrian Kurds are not a target in principle, which should be beaten. US failed to convey this idea to the Turks before the start of their operation in Afrin. Now the relations between the US and Turkey, according to officials in Ankara, are balanced against the dangerous feature of “total destruction,” as Mevlut Cavusoglu, the head of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, recently warned.
The Kurds did not find themselves in an information blockade, their position is being actively heard on the pages of the Arab and Western press. In addition, the Washington officials began to pedant the indiscriminate character of the military actions of the Turks in Afrin, during which civilians are dying, and the deficit of performance for Ankara following the results of almost a month of fighting. It is noted that of the total area of Afrin in 3,885 square kilometers to date, the forces of the Olive Branch took control of only about 7% of the territory of the Kurdish enclave. Let us return to the current combat losses of the Turkish military during the Afrin campaign. As of February 15, the death toll among the armed forces of the Turkish Armed Forces has exceeded 30 people. It is about the officially recognized losses of Ankara.
On February 10, the Turkish army lost 11 soldiers at once during the day of hostilities. The past Saturday was thus the most deadly day for the grouping of Turkish troops in Afrin since the beginning of the operation. Two of the dead were pilots of the Turkish attack helicopter T-129 ATAK, which crashed in the Turkish province of Hatay. A rotorcraft over the village of Kudeh in the area of the city of Raju was shot down by Kurdish militiamen. Before that, the deadliest for the Turks was Saturday, February 3, when eight soldiers of Turkey died, including the crew of the tank in the Sheikh-Havruz area in the northern sector of the Afrin front. The fighting machine was struck by an anti-tank missile system. Kurds called an order of magnitude more impressive numbers of dead Turkish soldiers and officers. So, earlier this week, the Kurdish news agency Firat quoted Murat Karayilan, one of the leaders of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party of the Kurdistan (RPK) banned in Turkey (commander of the PKK’s military wing), who pointed to “350 dead al Qaeda bandits (meaning SSA fighters) and about 200 Turkish soldiers “. At the same time, the Kurds themselves are estimated to lose their own losses by about 100 YPG fighters.
During this “war of nubers” between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds, which in both cases is far from reality (1), even official losses recognized by the Turks speak badly. Comparison of operations “Shield of Euphrates” and “Olive branch” under the prism of the loss of manpower in the personnel of the Turkish contingent is decisively not in favor of the current “antiterrorist mission” of Ankara. Again, according to the official version of the Turkish side, for the entire time of the first operation in the north of Syria, 71 military men died. Allied Turks of the SSA unit by March 2017, more than 500 militants were missing. At the end of January last year, when the ISIS still held the defenses in the Al-Bab district, 56 Turkish soldiers who were killed since the beginning of the operation “Shield of the Euphrates” were reported (recall, it started on August 24, 2016). Thus, the loss of the Turks in the ranks of the Olive Branch in less than a month of fighting nearly approached nearly half of the losses with which the previous Syrian campaign of Ankara collided after 5-6 months of battles with the IS. Still before being given by the president and supreme commander-in-chief Sun Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan order to launch an assault on Afrin the Kurds there promised to turn this region into a “cemetery of Turkish soldiers”. The loud statements of the YPG commanders on this issue are far from being realized, but the trend is extremely alarming for Erdogan and his generals.