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Syria: Turkey Takes Afrin and Looks Ever Forward

2 MINS READMar 19, 2018 | 18:02 GMT
The Big Picture

In a recent assessment, we said that Turkey would capture the city of Afrin because of its many advantages over the People's Protection Units (YPG). Now, Turkey and its rebel allies will likely continue the campaign by targeting remaining YPG-held areas east of the city to conclude Operation Olive Branch.

Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies have successfully leveraged their advantages over the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) in the city of Afrin. On March 18, they entered Afrin and took the city only hours later. The YPG had begun withdrawing even before the attack was formally launched, acknowledging its inability to effectively defend the city following severe casualties sustained during frontier battles.

The YPG's decision spared Afrin from heavy urban fighting, and the damage to the city was minimal — an anomaly for the typically devastating Syrian civil war. But there was still some destruction: Retreating YPG forces started fires and set off improvised explosive devices, while some units of Turkey's Syrian rebel allies engaged in widespread looting.

As Stratfor highlighted in a March 14 assessment, the Turkish and allied victory exemplifies Turkey's strength as a military power. Despite recent setbacks following the 2016 attempted coup, the Turkish military is clearly capable of mounting cohesive and effective military operations.

After Turkish and Syrian rebel troops finish mopping up Afrin and take a pause to sort out logistics, Turkey is expected to support its Syrian rebel allies in launching the remaining phase of the campaign to capture Menagh air base and the Tell Rifaat area. Those are the last remaining YPG-occupied areas in the wider Afrin region. As Turkey continues Operation Olive Branch, however, its proxy conflict with Iran will likely intensify. Iran-directed militias have already engaged in skirmishes with Turkey-backed forces, and they are present in the remaining areas that Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies are targeting.

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