Selen Temizer and Levent Tok
The PKK/PYD terrorist organization has become a major threat to Turkey by occupying the majority of the adjacent Syrian region border.
Terrorists present in Afrin, Syria -- along the border -- also pose a threat to Turkey’s border cities, as well as areas liberated by the recent Operation Euphrates Shield and the Idlib de-escalation zone.
It also has the potential to be a stepping stone for the terror group to reach the Mediterranean with the support of the U.S.
Afrin, situated in northwestern Syria, is one of the biggest districts in Aleppo, Syria.
Afrin, which also borders Hatay and Kilis, Turkey’s Syrian border provinces, is a gateway to the Amanos Mountains, also known as the Nur Mountains.
Afrin has emerged as a hideout for the PKK/PYD since 2011, when anti-regime movements started in Syria, followed by the current civil war.
In time, the terrorist group’s presence in Afrin gained power with support from the Assad regime and Russia’s tactical aid, along with U.S. backing east of the Euphrates River.
The terrorist group, growing rapidly with U.S. military support, has seized 65 percent of the area of the Turkish-Syrian border.
-Border cities under threat
The Afrin Mountains in Syria, which are extension of the Amanos Mountains in Hatay, Turkey, serve as a natural protection for the district.
Their physical dominance has also enabled the PKK/PYD to include all of Kilis’ provincial center and a considerable part of Hatay -- both in Turkey -- within their range of fire.
Terrorists often attempt to penetrate the Afrin Mountains. The PKK/PYD is continuing its attempts to support terrorism in Turkey by smuggling militant, arms, and ammunition from Syria to Turkey.
According to security sources, anti-tank weapons, rocket launchers, heavy machine guns, Kalashnikovs, and U.S.-made M16 infantry rifles are among the arms leaked from the Afrin Mountains to Amanos.
Since April 2016, the U.S. has provided the PKK/PYD with arms and vehicles, including multiple rocket launchers, missile launchers, 80- and 120-mm mortars, MK19 grenade launchers, U.S.-made BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missiles, and reconnaissance vehicles -- as well as FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missiles, which the U.S. has several times refused to sell to Turkey.
-Stepping stone for reaching the Mediterranean
The PKK/PYD has seized the border region with intense support from the U.S., from both land and sea.
While spreading across the region, it became the terrorist group’s biggest aim to access the Mediterranean.
The PKK/PYD wants to become a state and in the future get direct help from the outside world.
Afrin is thus a stepping stone for the PKK/PYD, which, starting at the Syrian-Iraqi border, would proceed to the Mediterranean via the Syrian-Turkish border.
With the successful Operation Euphrates Shield, which ended in March 2017, Turkey erected a partial barrier to the terrorist group making an east-west connection.
However, the group still has access from the Iraqi border region to Afrin via its multidimensional relations with regime leader Bashar Assad.
-Threat to Euphrates Shield region
Afrin is located on the western edge of the region covered by Operation Euphrates Shield, which the Turkish Armed Forces carried out with the Free Syrian Army.
Ahead of Euphrates Shield, in early 2016 the PKK/PYD tried to spread into the area from Afrin with the help of Russia and the Syrian regime.
In June 2015, the group attempted an ethnic cleansing of Tel-Abyad, a district with a large Arab and Turkmen population, after it occupied the district between Haseke and Aynularab with heavy air support from the U.S.
Attacking towns with large Turkmen and Arab populations, the PKK/PYD forced people to migrate.
The terrorist elements, spreading out of Afrin, occupied the Tel Rifat district and its surroundings, controlled by its opponents and Arabs.
Both forces opposed to the PKK/PYD and civilians in neighboring Azez are being constantly attacked by the terrorist group.
In recent months, scores of civilians died when the terrorists opened fire from the Afrin Mountains with heavy weapons.
Forces opposed to the PKK/PYD believe that if the Turkish army withdrew from the region, the group would want to seize the Operation Euphrates Shield area by gaining ground in Afrin.
Thus, the terrorist group aims to link the Euphrates River area in the east to Afrin in the west.
-Threat to Idlib de-escalation zone
Idlib stands as a barrier to the PKK/PYD, which wants to advance to the Mediterranean.
The establishment of a de-escalation zone in Idlib, under the control of opponents of the PKK/PYD and anti-regime forces, conflicts with the terror group’s interests.
Idlib falls within a network of de-escalation zones -- endorsed by Turkey, Russia and Iran -- in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.
The Assad regime believes the PKK/PYD might proceed to the Mediterranean via the Afrin-Idlib area if the resistance was broken after Iran-controlled forces and Russia clashed with anti-regime groups in Idlib.
Thus, the group was disturbed when the Turkish army established observation points in Idlib, western Afrin.
It has constantly attacked Turkish army elements since they started reconnaissance for the observation points.
When Turkey launches an operation into Afrin, the security and operation of these observation points would be ensured.
-Enabling civilians’ return
With a possible operation into Afrin, Turkey also aims to enable civilians who fled Tel Rifat and adjacent areas to return to their homes.
During the PKK/PYD’s occupation of Tel Rifat, 50,000 Arabs fled to Azez.
The group continues its activities, including arbitrary arrests of civilians and recruitment by force in Tel Rifat.
-Foiling US plan to form border army
If the U.S. plan to form a border army is fulfilled, and nationwide clashes are suspended, the PKK/PYD would claim a large share in the new administration, with its armed presence growing stronger.
On the other hand, the U.S. military presence -- which is integrated into the terrorists east of the Euphrates River -- is absent in Afrin.
Thus, this makes the terrorist group more defenseless in the face of a possible Turkish operation into Afrin.
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