Turkey has delivered military vehicles and is ready to surround YPG-held Afrin in retaliating against provocations from the terrorist group, although an immediate offensive is not expected yet, high-level sources told Daily Sabah
The Turkish military is on standby to capture areas surrounding the People's Protection Units (YPG)-held northern Syrian town of Afrin and retaliate against provocations from there after an offensive into the area was postponed earlier in July, a high-level diplomatic official in Ankara told Daily Sabah. The senior diplomatic source said the government did not commence a military operation on YPG-held Afrin, which it considers to be a national security threat, and temporarily halted a direct offensive on the town. However, an unexpected operation is and will be in the cards to capture surrounding towns in case of any provocations from the area, the official said.
"The Turkish military will surround Afrin. It will have control over the YPG's activities to ensure that no harm toward Turkey comes from there," the source added. Starting last month, Ankara has been showing signs of willingness to launch an operation similar to last year's Operation Euphrates Shield on YPG-held Afrin. Claims in the Turkish media and information from diplomatic sources were upheld earlier this month when the military shelled YPG positions in Afrin, leading to speculations that the operation had begun. Despite belief in the Turkish media that the offensive began, sources told Daily Sabah at the time that it was not the case and Russia and Iran would not favor a military operation in Afrin.
The reason is believed to be the former's previously set-up military base in the town, sparking Ankara's frustration.
Sources also said a Turkish delegation of representatives from the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and Foreign Ministry held talks in Tehran in mid-July with Iranian and Russian authorities regarding Afrin.
The talks were fruitful, and a consensus was reached, the official said. With the military offensive temporarily out of the equation, the source said, Ankara will adopt a wait-and-see policy on Afrin.
Bora Bayraktar, a journalist and an academic currently observing the developments along the border, said military preparations are underway.
"Turkey has determined Afrin as a security threat. To prevent this, Ankara wants to control logistical routes to Afrin. The aim is to not completely capture Afrin, but surround the town to cut off its supply lines," Bayraktar said.
Earlier this month, a YPG official told the Russian Sputnik news agency that the Turkish military was setting up military bases around Afrin, surrounding the town.
Rezan Hiddo of the YPG said, "[The Turkish military] positioned its troops, weapons, OBÜS (Turkish T-155 Fırtına self-propelled howitzer) and vehicles around Afrin. Heavy weapons were also positioned."
Bayraktar said Ankara sent the military a message to be ready for an offensive.
"I think the Turkish military will make a move either in August or September to control the Aleppo-Afrin road and Tal Rifat as well as Minnagh Airport."
Sources in Ankara previously claimed that there was a way for Ankara to persuade Russia and Iran to lift its protection shield from the YPG.
"If Turkey can achieve to convince the opposition to withdraw from some areas in the south, Iran and Russia may keep silent over the handover of Afrin," the sources said.
Murat Yeşiltaş, a security studies expert, recently said that even though the Kremlin does not see eye to eye with Ankara concerning the YPG, Russian President Vladimir Putin would be open to Ankara's offers.
Contending that "Russia will not make a fuss about Turkey's operation in Afrin if the operation does not threaten its own military bases," Yeşiltaş said a deal first has to be made with Russia.
Even though it is speculated that Ankara may find its way through negotiations with the Kremlin and Tehran on Afrin, the YPG relies on the United States for help. YPG commander Şipan Hemo told the PKK-affiliated news outlets Firat News Agency (ANF) that the YPG would halt the U.S.-backed Raqqa operation if Turkey launches an attack on Afrin.
Stressing that the YPG's decision was conveyed to Washington, Hemo said, "If the Turkish state continues on against Afrin and Shahba, the Raqqa operation will not continue."
In spite of Ankara's changing alliances in Syria over the years, the Turkish government's determined stance to not let the PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party (PYD) form an autonomous "terrorist state" along its southern border has remained the same.
Addressing a large crowd in the border towns of Akçakale and Ceylanpınar, across from YPG-held areas, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in late June, "Despite whoever is by your side [the U.S. coalition], you should know that Turkey, with its armed forces, will not let a state be formed in northern Syria."
The president added that the Turkish government informed the U.S. about Ankara's strategy.
"We told the U.S. as well. If there is such a thing, our struggle there will be different," Erdoğan said, signaling that Turkey is prepared to intervene in Afrin at any time.