Analysis. The situation in Afrin, Syria, grows more dire by the day as Turkish air raids continue and refugees stream south. Ankara seems on the cusp of getting what it’s always wanted: a buffer zone at its southeastern border.

Afrin under siege as US agrees to evacuate Kurdish fighters

The last ones to make it in were thousands of supporters, coming from Rojava and Bashur, and Syrian and Iraqi Kurdistan. Two caravans arrived on Monday to bring concrete assistance.

Shortly after, Afrin was surrounded on all sides, and the siege began. In the main city of the Kurdish-Syrian district, which is the target of the Turkish “Olive Branch” military operation, there are 350,000 people (out of a million in the district overall), half of whom have been displaced from other parts of Syria.

Running from Raqqa, Aleppo, Idlib and elsewhere, they had found refuge here, only to now find themselves prisoners in yet another war. This war is being fought by all-too-similar actors, headed by Turkey, which ever since 2011 has been funding and supporting, more or less directly, the forces of the opposition to the government in Damascus, whether “moderate” or Islamist.

On Tuesday, the government in Ankara celebrated the siege of Afrin as if they had defeated, or were about to defeat, a regular and well-equipped army. But those who are now facing the tanks and militiamen wielding NATO weapons are civilians—tens of thousands of Kurdish, Arab, and Turkmen families, and fighters from the popular defense units armed with just rifles and little more.

What will become of Afrin? The fear of a massacre is as widespread as the air strikes, incessant for days, which on Tuesday again hit civilians in the city center. The Turkish troops and the thousands of militiamen on Ankara’s payroll are advancing from the southeast and northwest, leaving only one corridor open, toward Aleppo and the areas controlled by the government in Damascus. On Tuesday, about 2,000 civilians arrived in the area around Nubl, while hundreds of others are still en route.

The status quo taking shape at present is one that Ankara has been pursuing for years: a buffer zone on their border (almost the entire Afrin district has been occupied, with villages and towns that have fallen under Turkish rule), next to the northwestern province of Idlib, which is in the hands of al-Qaeda and anti-Assad jihadists. And the buffer zone will grow even wider: President Erdogan’s threats that they will advance up to the border with Iraq in the east have found all-too-willing supporters.

Turkish Prime Minister Cavusoglu has announced that Ankara and Washington are planning the joint evacuation of the YPG/YPJ (the Kurdish popular defense units) from Manbij, a city halfway between Aleppo and Kobane, liberated in 2016 by a fledgling multi-ethnic and multi-confessional federation, the Syrian Democratic Forces. According to Cavusoglu, the agreement will be formally concluded on March 19, and will force out the YPG/YPJ from the area and disarm them.

This solution, imposed by unilateral force, would avoid consulting the local population and would allow the US to get out of the self-contradictory position in which they have been stuck for months, as 2,000 Marines are stationed in Manbij, who were active in the Raqqa offensive until the city’s liberation on Oct. 17.

If this plan fails, Turkey will proceed on its own with a new military operation. The prime minister did not say so explicitly, but the occupation of Manbij is a done deal—a city which has been following the democratic confederalist model of Rojava, ruling itself by means of a multi-ethnic autonomous administration.

Four hundred kilometers further south, another agreement has made it possible to save hundreds of sick and wounded from eastern Ghouta. The evacuation, announced by the Syrian state television, was confirmed by the UN, and by the images of civilians exiting the area through the northern humanitarian corridor at al-Wafideen.

The agreement, concluded between the Salafist group Jaysh al-Islam and Russia, was reached through the mediation of the United Nations and concerned a part of the injured who are blocked inside the region under siege from both the inside and the outside, numbering around a thousand. They are the first to actually be evacuated in the two weeks of “humanitarian pause” ordered by President Putin and never really put into practice. But the clashes are continuing, and, according to opposition sources, have killed more than 40 people Tuesday.


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