BEIRUT – The Turkish attack on the Syrian border town of Afrin, controlled by Kurdish fighters, has been anticipated for a long time: the Turkish authorities have threatened to launch the offensive and prepare for it. for months.
However, Ankara's strategic objectives for operation with the code name Operation Olive Branch come with much bravado and unclear.
Some Turkish officials have said that the main objective is the creation of a 30 kilometer (A "safe zone" of 20 miles) in Afrin, which according to Turkey is essential for its security. Others say the operation aims to expel militias of between 8,000 and 10,000 fighters affiliated with the People's Protection Units or YPG, a Kurdish Syrian group that has controlled territory in northern Syria and a proven US ally in the fight against Islamic State group.  Turkey considers YPG to be a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party or PKK, which has fought for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey. Founded in 2004, the group is the main defense force for the Kurdish areas in northern Syria and has sought to expand Kurdish control and autonomy in the course of the Syrian war.
On Wednesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey's concern was to facilitate the return of 3.5 million Syrians living in Turkey to their country. The changing objectives reflect the evolutionary implication of Turkey in Syria's civil war.
Here are some recent comments from Turkish officials on the objectives and scope of the offensive Afrin:
PRIME MINISTER TURCO BINALI YILDRIM said that strikes in Afrin marked the beginning of a campaign to "eliminate the elements PYD, PKK and Daesh in Afrin ", referring to the Kurdish Democratic Union Party and the Kurdish Workers Party, respectively, and using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.
THE FACTS: The Islamic State group is not known to have a presence in Afrin. Turkey has long maintained that it is in Syria to fight YPG and the Islamic State group, but its priority has been to limit Syrian Kurdish expansion and prevent the powerful Kurdish militia from connecting its territory east and west of the Euphrates River. In 2016, Turkey launched a cross-border operation with Syrian opposition forces in Jarablus. That operation cleared the Turkish border and expelled much of the Islamic State from the area, but also aimed to prevent the YPG from linking the Kurdish enclaves of Afrin and Kobani.
In the current offensive, the Turkish troops and the Syrian rebels they support have only been targeting Kurdish fighters. A senior US official says Washington is concerned that Turkey's military offensive in Afrin could distract the struggle against the Islamic State group in Syria and could be exploited by extremists to resupply or create safe havens.
TURKISH DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER BEKIR BOZDAG has told a group of foreign journalists in Istanbul that "700 rocket attacks have taken place on the Turkish side of the Syrian border" in recent years and that civilians have also been attacked. Other officials have said that the objective is to secure the border of Turkey and protect against attacks of "terror".
THE FACTS: It is not known that the YPG has claimed or actively carried out any terrorist attack inside Turkey. However, the Turkish government equates the YPG with the PKK and treats them as a single organization and the PKK has carried out large-scale attacks inside Turkey. Turkey asserts that the PKK is infiltrating the country from Afrin and using it as an operational base.
Turkish President ERDOGAN said on Wednesday that "this operation will continue until the last member of the terrorist organization that has been equipped in recent years (for America) with 5,000 trucks and 2,000 planes full of weapons. We believe that it is our obligation to clean up all terrorist organizations. "
THE FACTS: While the United States has provided training, weapons and logistical support for YPG and the Syrian Democratic Forces it dominates, that aid is not known to be it extended to the west of the Euphrates to Afrin. Afrin has been a much more problematic area controlled by the Kurds in Washington, because it is a separate entity in western Syria. Turkey had said it would not accept the presence of YPG west of the Euphrates.
U.S. Officials who spoke in Ankara said on Wednesday that Syrian Kurdish fighters in Afrin are not part of the group that received help from the US-led coalition to expel IS from most of northeast Syria. They also denied claims by the Turkish government that the United States had delivered thousands of arms trucks to Syrian Kurdish forces, saying that most of the supplies went to US forces and that resources also included ammunition, food and humanitarian supplies.
The US authorities spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with the media.
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