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.
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.
Last month, Ankara launched an operation against the YPG which controls Afrin.
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.
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.
Who are they repelling? 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.