"DAMASCUS, SYRIA (06:05 PM) – Turkey is not planning to remain in Syria’s Afrin district indefinitely, according to Bekir Bozdağ, Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey.
Bozdağ made the remarks during a press conference on Monday, as reported by Turkish newspaper Hürriyet Daily News. The minister’s remarks come a day after rebel forces of the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA), backed heavily by Turkish military support, captured Afrin city on Sunday.
According to Bozdağ, Turkey is planning to withdraw its armed forces from the region soon and return Afrin to “its rightful owners”. However, the Turkish minister failed to clarify who exactly he was referring to with this." (Al Masdar News)
This statement certainly was news to me. It could be a smokescreen, but I don’t see any reason Ankara would need a smokescreen. Perhaps eliminating the Kurdish threat is the real goal of operation Olive Branch. If true, it bodes well for the future of Syria. While I don’t know Erdogan’s full reasons for the operation, I strongly suspect that one of Russia’s goals for acquiescing to the operation was to force a breakup of the US-Kurdish marriage and a return of Rojava to Damascus. Now that Afrin has fallen, we must wait to see what the TSK and FSA have in store for Manbij. US troops are still in the area. Will they abandon their Kurdish allies in the face of a TSK/FSA advance? What happens when the TSK/FSA go after Kobane? I would think that the Kurds will eventually realize that the US is not their friend and ally and that taking the deal offered by Damascus is their only hope of resisting further Turkish predations.
The SAA offensive to reduce the East Ghouta pocket appears to be going well. It should. The SAA massed sufficient forces, the cream of the SAA, and applied sufficient supporting fires to ensure success. However, the fighting has not been without surprises. After inducing a large number of jihadis to surrender or be bussed to Idlib and successfully evacuating tens of thousands of civilians out of harms way, the SAA was hit by a surprise Daesh attack out of the Yarmouk refugee camp into the al Qadam district. Some SAA troops were surrounded for a short time before being rescued by a sharp counterattack. The SAA suffered high casualties at al Qadam requiring the redeployment of several assault units from the 4th Mechanized Division to reinforce the line. Daesh now control ninety percent of the al Qadam district in this back and forth battle.
The jihadis suffered heavy losses as a result of another one of their counterattacks targeting Masraba. They pushed forward recapturing a large swath of the district. The SAA again had to divert forces to stop the counterattack. After a day, the jihadis decided to pull back to their original positions in Douma. Unfortunately for them, the SAA caught them in an indirect and direct fire trap as they crossed an open area resulting in lots of dead jihadis.
To the southeast, the SAA and its militia allies stopped a sizable Daesh offensive just south of T2. This offensive consisted of numerous waves over two days. The jihadis simultaneously struck near al Mayadin and al Bukamal. The SAA called in airstrikes to beat back the attacks. Estimated casualties on both sides exceeded one hundred. The R+6 made a wise decision when they started reinforcing the Deir Ezzor area a few weeks ago.
In my opinion, all these battles point to the wisdom of reducing some of these pockets of jihadis before finally taking on the Idlib area. Those in the pockets are not defeated remnants waiting to be mopped up. They are organized units fully capable of offensive actions. They could create havoc if they attacked while the bulk of the SAA was engaged in Idlib. Perhaps now that the TSK/FSA has made Afrin safe for jihadis, the SAA can soon push the Idlib jihadis further north once that inevitable offensive kicks off.
The US is reportedly beefing up its garrison at al Tanf and establishing similar strongpoints in the YPG/SDF occupied areas east of the Euphrates. From these garrisons, Special Forces teams continue to organize, equip and train various shades of remnant jihadi outfits to ostensibly take on Daesh, but the real target appears to be the SAA and its allies. I try to imagine some of the conversations that must go on around the fire among these teams. Exasperated talk about what those idiots back in DC are thinking. Surly, mutinous talk that stays around the campfire, but also in the minds of the Green Berets. Once the campfires die out, they will move on and continue to fulfill their assigned missions to the best of their abilities.
General Votel may agree that Assad had won the civil war in Syria, but he knows this is far from over. The situation is still fraught with danger for all in the region.