The Turkish-rebel invasion of the Kurdish-held Afrin pocket in Syria is not going well. Just days ago the Turkish military suffered its worst day yet with eight dead.
Six of those were killed when one of its German-made Leopard 2 tanks was hit by an anti-tank missile (a Russian Konkurs) which detonated its ammunition. The explosion which followed was so large another soldier nearby was killed along the entire five-man crew.
Ankara’s official casualty count now stands at 16 dead along with perhaps a hundred Syrian Islamists in its employ. This means hundreds more have been wounded.
For these losses the Turkish offensive can point to less than 20 border villages wrestled from the Kurds (often times nearly obliterated with artillery beforehand). The Turks have advanced in no fewer than seven different places, yet nowhere are they more than 6 kilometers at most from where they started over two weeks ago.
Rather than concentrate its offensive capability in just a few key places and hit hard there looking for a decisive blow the Turkish-rebel offensive has spread out all along the frontline and is attempting to advance everywhere at once — to predictable results. Perhaps the effect of Erdogan’s post-coup purges of the military has been greater than I thought.
What should worry Turks is that the Kurds don’t seem particularly impressed with their effort so far. They are being pushed back, but even in the face of overwhelming Turkish supremacy in artillery and armor, the Kurds have been able to counter-attack in a number of places and get back a village or a hilltop they had just lost. Fighting for their homes their morale is a notch above that of the ex-rebel cannon fodder of the Turks.
One thing the Turkish-Islamist offensive has achieved though was to obliterate an ancient, 3000 year-old Assyrian temple. So while Erdogan isn’t winning any great victories on the ground he is — just like the slightly more hardcore Islamists of ISIS he once backed —successfully erasing Syria’s priceless cultural heritage.
— Turkey Untold (@TurkeyUntold) January 27, 2018
But not to worry, perhaps the Turkish enterprise in Afrin can be saved yet — for that purpose Turkey is enlisting the help of Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki of child beheading fame.
The group was once hailed by the US and The Guardian as model “moderate rebels” and received appropriately lush backing and PR. It is now openly part of the al-Qaeda-dominated HTS (Hayat Tahrir al-Sham) coalition, but is most famous for an event two years ago when its men and leaders proudly filmed themselves cutting off the head of a Palestinian boy in Aleppo’s Handarat refugee camp.*
The plan is for Zenki to strike from the south and add to Turkish pressure which is so far coming from the north, west and east — but not Syria’s al-Qaeda-held Idlib.
Well, maybe this will change the fortunes of Turkey’s offensive, but actually it probably won’t. That will probably require Turkish regulars taking over infantry duties as well. But hey, at least Zenki will get to hang out with these guys again:
What a video this….Turkish backed Syrian rebels outside #Afrin, singing a jihadi song about "how we were steadfast in Grozny & Dagestan. And we took Tora Bora. And now Afrin is calling for us." pic.twitter.com/gmFb1gKvFO
— Jenan Moussa (@jenanmoussa) February 1, 2018
*The boy was accused of “spying” for the pro-government Liwa al-Quds Palestinian militia — which apparently warrants having your head cut off with a kitchen knife at 13 by sweaty Wahabbis in wife beaters.