Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are arriving to the northern region of Afrin to support the Kurdish People's Protection Units, YPG, against an ongoing Turkish military operation.
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Syrian state news agency SANA reported that “popular forces” loyal to Assad would arrive in Afrin “within a few hours to support its people's stand against the Turkish regime's attack on the area and its people.”
It was not confirmed if the forces will include official Syrian Arab Army, SAA, officials or other pro-government militias already on the ground, but it was suggested that Iran-supported militias would take part.
The “Olive Branch” Turkish military operation began Jan. 20 with the aim of dismantling the YPG, which controls roughly 30 percent of Syrian territory, mostly bordering Turkey.
Last month, the YPG and its umbrella organization, the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, urged Assad's government to intervene in the conflict in favor of Syria's sovereignty and territorial integrity against what they consider a foreign invasion.
Nuri Mahmoud, a spokesman for the YPG, said they are looking forward to preserve the integrity of Syria and called the SAA to help them protect the region. “Syrian soldiers have not arrived yet, but they will. The international community continues to address the Syrian leadership as sovereign and we call on this authority to protect its territory,” said Mahmoud.
At that time, Assad's government didn't say whether it would support them with military units, but did allow them free movement so they could move their militias from other Kurdish-held areas in order to protect Afrin.
“There are different ways to get reinforcements to Afrin but the fundamental route is via regime forces. There are understandings between the two forces ... for the sake of delivering reinforcements to Afrin,” said Kino Gabriel, the SDF's spokesman.
The Turkish government considers the YPG, its Female Protection Units, known as the YPJ, and its Democratic Union Party, PYD, as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which has led an armed insurgency in their fight for autonomy in southeast Turkey under a communist-inspired ideology called “democratic confederalism.”
The PYD has denied to have political or military ties with the PKK, but admits it is inspired by democratic confederalism.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Monday his government would welcome Assad's forces in Afrin and supported Syrian territorial integrity, but specified that if they were entering the region to protect YPG or the PKK, "nobody can stop the Turkish army."
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This makes the situation in Syria more complex because of the already-fragile net of relations involving militias and foreign powers. The YPG has long been supported by the United States in the fight against the so-called Islamic State group and were responsible for seizing their self-proclaimed capital, Raqqa.
Now, the YPG has reached a new agreement with Assad's government, which is opposed to the United States and Turkey but allied with Russia and Iran.
Even though Russia has given military support to the YPG, it's highly unlikely that Turkey would dare to intervene in Syria without permission from Moscow.
Washington has reiterated several times that their support for the YPG is only in the front lines against the Islamic State group, which doesn't include Afrin.
Syrian and Turkish forces have not faced each other in combat since 2012, when a Turkish jet was allegedly gunned down by the SAA.
Recent developments may lead to new confrontations between Syria and Turkey, as well as between the United States and Turkey, both NATO members.