When Turkey and Syrian Islamists in its employ launched their all-out offensive against the Kurdish-held Afrin pocket in Syria’s northwest a floodgate of Kurdish complaints was opened. The Kurds complained that Russians were in cahoots with the Turks, that US was selling them out, and that the Syrian government was not serious about defending them.
One complaint has been completely absent however. 12 days into the attempted Turkish invasion of Afrin the Kurds have yet to complain that Damascus is preventing their fighters from northeastern Syria from reinforcing the Afrin exclave — which is sufficient proof that Syria is doing no such thing.
In Afrin the Kurdish YPG militia has less than 10,000 men under arms. However, in northeastern corner of Syria the YPG has at least another 30,000 fighters. Trouble for the Kurds is the two Kurdish-held territories are not connected. In between lies the Turkish occupation zone as well as territory under the control of the Syrian army.
Luckily for the Kurds Damascus is happy to see YPG fighters from the east traverse its territory to reinforce Afrin defenses and drive up the costs of invasion for Turkey and the Islamist ex-rebels in its tow.
Launching the Afrin invasion Turks announced they would deal with possible Kurdish reinforcements by drone-bombing any YPG convoys heading east. However there is no reason why Kurdish fighters have to travel in large, identifiable convoys, and every reason for them not to.
“We are aware the SDF has repositioned some forces in response to recent tensions, however this was not under coalition direction,” Defense Department spokesman Maj. Adrian Rankine Galloway said.
Askied where the SDF forces have been repositioned, he said: “I don’t speak for the SDF.”
In fact granting each other limited passage is an established practice of the two camps. The Kurds allow the government side limited access to its pockets in Qamishli and Hasaka, in return the Kurdish-held Aleppo neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsood enjoys similar rights. Also last year year Damascus allowed YPG fighters from Afrin to join the YPG-US offensive on Raqqa.
The irony is that in their fight against Turkey the usually US-backed Syrian Kurds are getting more help from the Syrian government they are in rebellion against.
Damascus meanwhile finds itself using fighters in many cases trained and equipped by the US against Turkey – both of them NATO members, both of them powers that previously sought the downfall of the Syrian state together.
Naturally the Syrian government does not want another Turkish occupation zone in northern Syria any more than the Kurds do albeit for somewhat different reasons.
Erdogan has signaled his ambition is for a military victory to be followed by resettling Arab refugees from Turkish camps to Afrin to change the demographic makeup of the area, therefore preventing the rise of a Kurdish statelet in the area forever.
The problem for Syria is Erdogan doesn’t seem in any rush to recognize the legitimacy of the government in Damascus and will likely demand huge concessions for Islamists in Syria to return them, or else simply sustain a mini Islamist emirate in northwestern Syria forever.