Countdown for Afrin

Early October last year, on the way back from Iran with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, it was already only a matter of time before the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) set foot on Syrian territory again for Idlib. While discussing this matter on the flight back home, the president said, “We are going to be on the inside, Russia will be on the outside.”

I interrupted and asked, “So we won’t be entering Syria? Can you please elaborate a little more on what you mean when you say, ‘We are going to be on the inside, Russia will be on the outside’?”

Erdoğan wanted to expand the topic, he first said, “No, it’s not like that,” and added, “Of course, this will continue with Afrin.”

Then, thinking that sharing the details in advance may harm the operation to be carried out, he did not say anything more. He said, “Let’s not get into that now,” and dropped the subject. Of course, to open it once again when the time came.

It will be less than a week…

The president on Saturday got into the Afrin topic by giving a date this time. “Less than a week will pass until they will see how we will destroy the looters they think they formed a military with,” he said and added, “If the terrorists do not surrender in Afrin, we are going to destroy that place with them in it. If promises made in relation to Manbij are not kept, we are going to take the matter into our own hands. We had destroyed 3,000 Daesh members until al Bab. We will destroy another 3,000 terrorists.”

At his party’s Tokat congress yesterday, Erdoğan again brought the subject up and said: “In the upcoming days, we are going to continue the operation that we started with the Euphrates Shield to cleanse our southern border from terrorists with Afrin.”

So, the ships have been burned.

So, the path to Afrin has opened for the TAF with no turning back.

How was the path to Afrin opened?

At this point, I want to share a few matters that were stated by a force commander, who retired in August 2016, during our three-hour conversation last week within the context of Syria.

A short summary of the conversation on Syria:

-Located right near Idlib is Russia’s Khmeimim Base. They came and settled here, set up the S-400 system and do not want to see anything that will put this base in danger.

- They believe this base is threatened most by the Nusra elements in Idlib. Therefore, they want that organization away from here.

- I find President Erdoğan statements that an operation may be conducted on areas such as Qamishli and Tal Abyad, on the east of the Euphrates, extremely important and valuable in terms of showing a political stance.

(As the most intriguing part of this conversation was on another topic and is hence the subject of another article, I am leaving it for later and continuing with Syria.)

How was the zone project daggered?

I find it necessary to focus a little on the Khmeimim base. Such that, for more than a year now, we heard – and continue to hear – the name of this base plenty of times, not only when we were providing military sources, but also during our contact with other security units. When the Euphrates Shield operation is mentioned, when Idlib and Afrin are mentioned, Khmeimim is also mentioned. Why? There are two reasons.

First, it’s as if the Russians have associated all their proceeds in Syria with this base.

Second, this base has a significant place in the cooperation on Syria between Turkey and Russia that has been ongoing for about two years.

Would you like me to further elaborate?

Let me put it like this:

 About two years ago, when Ankara saw that it was constantly being deceived by Washington and made the decision to revise its Syria policy, it said to Russia, “We know how important the Khmeimim base is for you.” The Russians responded, “We can understand how sensitive you are on the topic of the zone project.”

Khmeimim base in exchange for the Euphrates Shield

In other words, as a result of the negotiations, Ankara saw the significance of the Khmeimim base and Moscow saw Turkey’s determination against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) zone.

After saying all this, careful readers may have recalled the recent drone attack on the Khmeimim base. So, for those who are wondering what all this is about, let us elaborate a little more.

You will remember, the Russians first sent a letter to the General Staff and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and had claimed that the UAV that carried out this attack launched from the area which was under the TAF’s responsibility.

Just as we started questioning if a new crisis was rising, the telephone conversation between President Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin came to the rescue. The conversation was held, Putin said, “We know that Turkey is not responsible for this attack,” and the dust settled.

So really, who could have carried out this attack?

I will give you the description and you can figure it out.

Whoever is disturbed by Turkey’s gains through cooperation with Russia, whoever thinks the solution is to end this cooperation and, as a matter of fact, whoever thinks the solution is for these two countries to clash, they are the force behind this attack.

I don’t know if that is clear enough.

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