Afrin: Turkish-led forces secured the city of Afrin on Monday after a deadly two-month assault that dealt the Kurds a major blow and could reshape the region.
Opposition groups supporting the capture of Afrin from the Kurds condemned looting carried out by Ankara’s Syrian proxies when they seized the northern city Sunday.
The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) could do little when Syrian Arab fighters backed by NATO’s second-largest army thrust into Afrin, nearly two months into a massive assault on the region.
The fighters, mostly former anti-Assad rebels, celebrated their victory by destroying the statue of Kurdish hero Kawa and looting shops and other property.
The pillaging drew widespread condemnation, including from Syrian opposition groups supporting the Turkish intervention.
“The looting and stealing of private and public property is a crime,” said Mohammad Alloush, a key figure in the Jaish Al Islam rebel group.
“All those who took part in this decadence need to have their hands slapped hard.”
An AFP reporter said looting was still taking place on Monday, with fighters joking at checkpoints about their spoils.
The Britain-based Syria Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, which relies on an extensive network of sources across Syria, also said pillaging was still under way.
The mosaic of factions hired by Turkey from Idlib province and elsewhere to wage the offensive were spray-painting their groups’ names on Afrin shop fronts and walls.
They also picked through debris for bombs and unexploded ordnance after explosions killed at least 13 of them on Sunday.
The command of the operation Ankara launched on January 20 appeared to be rotating some fighters out in order to bring a police holding force.
Turkey, which has threatened to push deeper into Syria, said its operation was aimed at securing the north of the country to allow the three million Syrian refugees on its soil to return.
Ankara was also worried that the Kurds, who control some 30 per cent of Syrian territory, would consolidate a statelet stretching all along the border.
Nicholas Heras, a security fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said taking Afrin was a success for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who shrugged off international concern to press on with the operation.
“Afrin is one of the most strategic areas of northwest Syria. It is a piece of real estate that anchors Turkey’s presence for many years to come,” Heras said.
Bitterness ran high among the Kurds, who feel poorly rewarded for the sacrifices made when they were the ground force of the US-led coalition’s war against Daesh.
The Observatory said that more than 1,500 Kurdish fighters had been killed since the start of the offensive, most of them in air strikes and artillery fire.
The YPG has vowed to fight back but their chances look slim and tens of thousands of Afrin residents who fled in recent days now find themselves in limbo.