Operation Olive Branch Intensifies as Turkish Troops enter Afrin, Syria

Turkish troops have crossed the Syrian border as Operation Olive Branch enters into its ground offensive stage. This development follows a week of escalating aggression between Turkish and Kurdish forces, which has so far resulted in 13 confirmed casualties and destruction of local houses. Though submerged within the context of the Syrian Civil War, this current flood of violence commenced on the 19th of January with cross-border shelling in the Kurdish-controlled Syrian region of Afrin and Turkey’s town of Kilis. Turkish air raids commenced alongside artillery shelling on Saturday the 20th, with the military announcing that 153 targets where hit.

With the event still currently unfolding, conflicting reports are emerging as to the reality on the ground in Northern Syria. Nouri Mahmoudi, the spokesperson for the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), attested that the fighter group thwarted the attempted Turkish ground invasion into Syrian territory. This is in direct contention with Ankara’s claim that Turkey and aligned Syrian rebel factions including the Free Syrian Army have advanced into Syria. The stated objective of the ground offensive is to establish a 30km “safe zone” targeting Afrin and Manbij, according to Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.

The reported offensive is the strongest reaction from any of the parties that have been involved in a series of destabilizing developments, whereby a multitude of actors are seeking to gain control over Northern Syria. Turkish resentment has continually grown as a result of the alliance between American forces and the YPG, which has gained great success in capturing territory along the Turkish border and in Northern and Eastern Syria in general. Of particular concern was the US decision to form a 30,000-strong border security force that is to involve Kurdish YPG operated border patrols. From a Turkish perspective, this would represent a great threat to national security as the county has been fighting a civil conflict with Kurdish fighters for over 30 years. However, the decision to launch a ground offensive in Syria disproportionately increases the likelihood of combative violence in the region. Given the sensitive complexity of the area, it is also likely that many additional parties will be drawn into this conflict, thus further destabilizing the area and increasing the propensity for violence. Particularly, given that this takes place within the context of the Syrian Civil War, actions that further isolated the chances of peace and progress are condemnable.

As such, the implications of Operation Olive Branch may be vast and devastating for peace and security, should worst-case scenarios develop, whereby international, regional and local parties to the conflict be drawn into a combative, ‘on the ground’ fight. The stance of Russia will be of particular importance with regards to how this outburst of conflict unfolds. Given the states overlapping interests, as well as Russia’s preeminence in the civil war, it is unsurprising that Turkey engaged with Russia to discuss Operation Olive Branch prior to its commencement. One may hope that in the midst of this multifaceted war, unsuspecting developments could lead to positive change.