Operation “Olive Branch”: A Stress Test for the Players in Syria


On the 20th of January, the Turkish military in Syria began operation “Olive Branch”. It involved the participation of 72 aircraft, and the very next day infantry units joined the operation. As the Turkish High Command said, 108 out of 113 marked targets in seven points in the city of Afrin have been hit.

Turkish warnings

Turkey entered into action against Kurd “National Self-Defence Units” that are based in Syrian border territories. Ankara’s position is simple: ‘units’ with ties to the WPK (Workers Party of Kurdistan), which, in turn, has been marked as a terrorist organisation in Turkey. This is why Ankara’s casus belli is the battle against terrorism.

It is important to note, that “National Self-Defence Units” are part of the coalition of “Syrian Democratic Forces”, which is openly supported by the US.

In addition, we must note that the Turkish leadership had earlier warned other actors about the possibility of an operation. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned as far back as the 13th of January that not just Afrin, but the city of Manbijj (another enclave under Kurd control) would become the target of military operations.

What is more, as Turkish deputy prime minister Bekir Bozdag explained earlier, the operation is not geared “against our Turkish, Kurd, and Arab brothers, but against terrorist organisations.”

“It [the operation] has been begun, taking into account the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and political unity of Syria and will continue on the basis of these principles", - the deputy prime minister explained. He also promised that Turkey will leave the territory once its goals have been reached.

Information about the number and identity of dead and wounded varies; as the High Command notes, there are only “terrorists” among the dead.

According to some sources, there have also been three missile strikes from Syrian territory on the Turkish city of Kilis.

“Olive Branch”

Turkish prime minister Binali Yildirim explained on a press conference in Istanbul, that operation "Olive Branch” will be executed in four phases until all terrorists in the north of Syria have been destroyed. He also spoke of the creation of a 30-kilometre security zone in the region.

The news agency Anadolu said on Sunday that Turkish troops had made five kilometres of progress into Afrin.

Turkey has been angered

Turkey’s actions are a natural reaction to American support for the Kurds and the US’ activity in the region. Russian minister of foreign affairs Sergei Lavrov noted, that it is unilateral American actions in Syria that have “made Turkey mad”.

As the Turkish ‘Watan’ party declared earlier, the operation in Afrin is legitimate and timely, seeing as Turkey is entering “the most critical period of the Turkish-American war”. The party also called for the removal of American military forces from the Incirlik airbase, as leaving them there unmolested would mean coming to terms with a threat to the country.

Accusing Ankara of inconsistency in its actions towards its allies in the region (Syria, Russia, and Iran) would not be fully correct. According to the Turkish prime minister, Ankara's talks with Damascus are not going very easily, but “there is indirect contact with Syria”. He also noted, that “we [Turks] have direct contact with Russia” and that Russia “does not look upon the operation negatively”.

The Kurdish position

Representatives from the Kurd self-defence units declare, that Turkish soldiers are based in the Syrian cities of Aazaz, El-Bab, and Jarablus. 

However, in this case the Kurds themselves have provoked the Turkish operation. They had an excellent opportunity to reject American support and the idea of a nation state, the latter of which is strongly irritating the neighbours (Turkey, Syria, and Iraq).

As has become clear earlier, the Americans have handed the Syrian Kurds RPGs, which has received a strong reaction from the Turkish side. Meanwhile, during the ‘truce’, the Kurds had a beautiful opportunity to re-orient themselves to the Moscow-Teheran-Ankara axis and speed up a peace settlement in Syria. By choosing American support, the Kurds have automatically challenged our coalition. The lamentable precedent that was activated with Washington we have already seen in Iraq, after which the White House turned away from the Kurds.

Turkey also has a choice to make

But it is not just the Kurds who have to make an important choice. The Turks themselves should also understand that a simultaneous battle against American proxy forces and the ‘we are against Assad’ position form an a priori losing strategy.

Thus, Ankara will also have to choose a course for the future and decide who it will join in the current geopolitical conflict, either Sea or Land. In any case, the ‘Watan’ party has expressed the hope that Turkey will regularly cooperate with Bashar al-Assad’s administration, for “cooperation with Syria is the most effective policy for the operation in Afrin to do as much damage as possible and be as successful as possible”.

Translated from the Russian by V.A.V.