Pro-Syrian government forces arrived in Syria’s northwestern Afrin region Tuesday to fight alongside the Kurdish People's Protection Units, YPG, prompting immediate attacks from Turkey and its allies.
"The Syrian government has responded to the call of the duty and sent military units on this day...to deploy along the border and take part in defending the unity of Syria's territory and borders," said YPG leader, Nouri Mahmoud.
Since at least Sunday Mahmoud and the YPG have been publically trying to convince the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad to send troops to its northern border to fight Turkish forces.
Upon their arrival, the Syrian forces were met with heavy shelling by Turkish troops and their allied anti-government forces. There are no reports yet of deaths on either side.
While Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish state media claimed the pro-Assad force had retreated, media affiliated with the Lebanese Shiite resistance movement Hezbollah broadcasted images of about 20 heavily armed vehicles entering Afrin brandished with Syrian flags and troops marching and chanting pro-Syrian government slogans.
The troops who arrived at the border today are thought to be the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Units, not the official Syrian army, Syrian Arab Army. Erdogan described them as "terrorists" who will "pay a heavy price" for aiding the YPG.
Erdogan and his government see the Kurdish forces in Syria as a potential threat to Turkey fearing they may try to take over Turkish territory in an effort to create a sovereign Kurdish nation in the region.
Though the YPG denies any affiliation, Erdogan sees no difference between them and the Kurdistan Workers' Party, PKK, the Kurdish insurgents in Turkey who have been fighting for autonomy from the Turkish state in the Kurdish-majority southeast region for three decades.
The YPG, which has received military and logistical support from the U.S. over the past few years, gained proved to be the most effective force against the Islamic State group pushing it out from much of northern Syria and setting up three de facto counties there already.
The Turkish government sees that as a national security threat and is now intent on intervening in Syria to end the Kurdish presence at its southern border.
In a controversial move last month Erdogan ordered the his military to bomb the northern areas of Syria targeting the YPG in the region.
A day earlier President Erdogan reportedly spoke with both Russian and Iranian presidents to shore up their support and stave off any pro-Assad forces near the Turkish border. He told his counterparts Vladimir Putin and Hassan Rouhani that Assad would "face consequences" if he allied with the YPG.
"The besieging of the Afrin city centre will start rapidly in the coming days," Erdogan said Tuesday. A pro-Assad militia leader told Reuters that Russia had "delayed the entry of a large (number of) Syrian army forces" into Afrin and Erdogan says Moscow has vowed to block a Syrian army deployment to the region. Ankara says it sought Moscow's approval before launching its assault on Afrin last month.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday the Afrin crisis could be resolved through direct negotiations between Damascus and Ankara.