Ankara: Turkish forces have besieged northern Syria’s Afrin town and entry into the city centre is imminent, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday, zeroing on the main goal of its operation in the region.
On Thursday, Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies seized control of the town of Jinderes, state media reported, giving them control of one of the largest settlements in Syria’s northwest Afrin region.
Erdogan made the comments during a televised speech in Ankara.
Turkey’s war on a Syrian Kurdish militia that is closely aligned with the United States is forcing the group to give up positions against Daesh militants in the Syrian desert to defend against the advancing Turkish troops.
Ankara’s go-it-alone campaign against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, known as the YPG, in a region called Afrin is reshaping military alignments in northern Syria and forcing the US to pause its mop-up operations against pockets of Daesh.
But the US is not supporting the defense of Afrin, and the Kurds are looking to Damascus for help, despite the Syrian government’s pariah status in the international community.
Washington and many Western nations hold President Bashar Al Assad’s government chiefly responsible for the civil war that has engulfed the country for nearly seven years and still shows little sign of abating.
To date, Damascus is the only major player to send forces to defend Afrin.
The move gives Al Assad particular leverage over the Kurdish self-administration at a time when global powers are jostling for influence in Syria.
“Afrin is in need of whoever can defend it,” said Ilham Ahmad, a senior official in the Kurdish self-administration unit of northern Syria, which the Kurds call Rojava.
“We are ready for dialogue with the regime and to resolve our issues with them,” she said.
The US is naturally hesitant to enter into a military confrontation with NATO member Turkey, but White House officials may have underestimated the Kurds’ determination to defend Afrin, says Mutlu Civiroglu, a Kurdish analyst in Washington.
“So many major political and military leaders of the Kurds are from Afrin, and Afrin, in the Kurdish heart and mindset, is an inseparable part of Rojava, Syrian Kurdistan,” said Civiroglu.