What We Know About Syrian Army's Deployment in Afrin Despite Turkish Warning

On February 20, Syrian government popular forces arrived in Afrin to fend off Turkey’s military offensive on the city and fight the Daesh (ISIS) terrorist group, SANA reported.
On Wednesday, the official representative of the Kurdish militia have confirmed to Sputnik that the Syrian popular forces had entered Afrin despite Turkish shelling.

“We maintain contact with the Syrian army, authorities in Afrin and the Kurdish self-defense units (YPG). The forces sent [to Afrin] are directed from the Syrian government, from the command of the Syrian army. Erdogan turned out to be a bad road policeman today, saying that he stopped the movement of Syrian forces that were heading to Afrin. These words are wrong, the forces are is alread in Afrin,” YPG spokesman Reizan Hedu said.

According to him, dozens of journalists came under artillery fire at the entrance to the canton of Afrin, while covering the movement of the Syrian forces’ column’s movement toward Afrin.

“The [Turkish] president, the government and the Turkish media made statements with a confessional implication, stating that these forces are Shiite. We in Syria are proud of our confessional and national diversity. We have been rebuffing Turkish aggression for 32 days, which in military terms has been unsuccessful. They may have advanced to a number of positions, but in general the military campaign has been unsuccessful,” he added.

What Happened?
Despite the fact that the information was repeatedly debunked by Ankara and Kurdish forces over the past several days, Syrian popular forces have entered Afrin area, with troops being deployed in specified centers to support the Kurds fighting against Turkish forces. However, the Syrian army had to retreat when the Turkish military responded with warning fire.

Commenting on the information, Syrian Ambassador to Russia Riad Haddad stated, “I have no information about where the Syrian army is currently [located] in Afrin. We believe that what Turkey had done is agression and we will fight it by all means. It is an aggression against the Syrian people and its territorial integrity.”

When Turkey started its military campaign in Syria’s Afrin on January 20, Damascus resolutely condemned the operation as a violation of Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
On February 19, Syrian state television channel Ikhbariya reported that pro-Syrian government forces would enter Afrin “within hours,” which was denied by the YPG representative in the area Brusk Haseke, who claimed they would announce it officially if anything changed.
Earlier that same day, senior Kurdish official, Badran Jia Kurd, told Reuters that Syrian Kurdish forces and the country’s government had agreed on the deployment of Syrian army troops along border positions in the Afrin region to curb the Turkish campaign, and that the military would enter the beleaguered Afrin within the next two days.
Last week Rojhat Roj, commander of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Afrin denied reports of Kurdish fighters reaching an agreement with Damascus to have Syrian troops deployed to the region to repel Turkish forces.
At the same time, YPG commander Sipan Hemo insisted that the Syrian army should take most of the responsibility for the defense of Afrin against what he described as a Turkish invasion, calling on Damascus to “immediately send in reinforcements to the border region with Turkey.”
Earlier Mayadeen, the Lebanese broadcaster, reported that Damascus and the Kurdish militias had sealed a deal, and that the Syrian armed forces were about to enter Afrin to deter Turkish forces.
A source familiar with the situation told Sputnik that the Syrian Armed Forces would enter the territory near the border with Turkey in the district of Afrin in the next few days.
Turkey’s Warning
Following Syrian government forces’ attempted advances towards Afrin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a statement, claiming that the Syrian convoy had to retreat under the Turkish warning fire in the area of the besieged Afrin.

“Tonight about a dozen pickups were seen moving towards Afrin. But then there was shelling [from the side of the Turkish Armed Forces], and they had to return. So far, this is all over. Yesterday we spoke with respected [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and respected [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani; we have agreements on this topic. Unfortunately, some terrorist groups sometimes make erroneous decisions themselves, this is unacceptable, and they will be held accountable for it,” Erdogan told journalists in Ankara.

Ankara has repeatedly warned Damascus against supporting the Kurds, with President Erdogan calling the decision to enter Afrin unacceptable and vowing to encircle the city to speed up the “Olive Branch” operation.

“Turkish forces will encircle Afrin’s center in the upcoming days. Thus, we will cut off any external help, so that nobody could strike a secret bargain. We will show those, who want to create a terrorist corridor on Turkey’s southern border, that it’s not an easy task,” Erdogan said at a meeting with lawmakers of the ruling Justice and Development Party.

Erdogan proceeded to say that the possible deployment of Syrian forces in Afrin had been “halted through our communications.”
Prior to his speech, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin lambasted reports about the Syrian troops’ entry into Afrin, calling them “black propaganda.”

“It is quite clear that the reports on the agreement between the regime and the YPG are black propaganda. However, this does not mean that there cannot be any secret and dirty bargaining there,” Kalin said, as quoted by the Hurriyet newspaper.

While Damascus has denounced the campaign as a violation of Syria’s sovereignty, Ankara, stressed that its military advance in the region was not aimed against Syria’s government, explaining that the offensive “was targeting only terrorists.”
Devlet Bahceli, Turkish opposition Nationalist Movement Party leader,  has also supported the official stance, saying that the Turkish forces would clear Afrin of terrorists “no matter the consequences.”

“Turkish soldiers will enter Afrin, and our flag […] will go up on a flagpole towards the height it deserves,” Bahceli told his party’s parliamentary group.

Int’l Reaction
Turkey began its military operation in Afrin in response to reports that the United States had envisaged creating a 30,000-strong border force, comprised of the Kurdish Democratic Forces (SDF), at the Turkish border, which Ankara dismissed as a “terrorist army.”

“Turkey will not allow the creation of a terrorist corridor along its borders, as well as a terrorist army. All necessary measures will be taken in this regard,” the Turkish National Security Council said in a statement in mid-January.

Following Syrian government forces entry into Afrin, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had a conversation with Turkish President and agreed to create working groups to address the situation in Afrin.

“The Secretary just days ago sat down and met with his counterpart and also with President Erdogan. They agreed to sit down and have a series of meetings, some working groups that they put together where we can look at determining ways that we can better confront the situation there [Afrin],” said Heather Nauert, State Department spokesperson.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has urged the halt of the military campaign in Afrin and to prevent confrontation between the parties involved in the conflict in Syria.

“It is necessary to stop these military operations. The more battles, the less access we have to people who need help, whether people were displaced due to clashes in the Afrin region or in Eastern Ghouta. Every new day of fighting brings new suffering. Every day of fighting increases the risk of confrontation between different powerful parties involved in this conflict,” said Stephane Dujarrik, a spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, commenting on the escalation of the situation in Afrin.

“Olive Branch”
Since January 20 Turkey has been conducting a military operation, codenamed “Olive Branch,” against the Kurdish forces in Syria’s Afrin, an area controlled by the US-backed YPG, which is considered by Ankara to be affiliated with the Kurdistan’s Workers’ Party (PKK), regarded by Turkey as a terrorist organization.

Ankara launched the military campaign in response to the announcement of the United States that Washington would train a 30,000-strong border security force on the territory within Syria controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance dominated by the YPG allegedly associated with the PKK, banned in Turkey.