1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

State media: Syria to deploy militia fighters to Afrin

February 19, 2018

The Syrian regime and Kurdish forces have reportedly agreed to join forces in Afrin to counter an ongoing Turkish offensive. Syrian state media report that the deployment of pro-regime troops is imminent.

Syrien Aleppo Checkpoint Syrische Armee
Image: Reuters/O. Sanadiki

Damascus will deploy pro-government forces to Afrin to back Kurds against the Turkish offensive, Syrian state agency SANA reported on Monday morning.

The move aims to "support the steadfastness of its people in confronting the aggression which Turkish regime forces have launched on the region," SANA said. 

Syrian state television also announced that the deployment was imminent, without providing details. 

Read more: German Kurds protest Turkey's Afrin assault in Cologne

Map showing armed factions in northern Syria

The announcement raises the prospect of direct clashes between the Syrian regime and Turkey, which alongside rebel allies, moved against the Kurdish-held enclave in northwestern Syria a month ago.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said there would be "no problems" if the Syrian fighters were deployed to "cleanse" the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the People's Protection Units (YPG) from Afrin.

But he said that if the regime defended the YPG, which Turkey considers a terrorist organization linked to the PKK, then "nothing and nobody can stop us or Turkish soldiers."

"This is true for Afrin, Manbij and the east of the Euphrates River," Cavusoglu added, referring to Kurdish-controlled areas east of Afrin. 

Read more: Turkey's military offensive against Kurdish-held Afrin: What you need to know

Erdogan and Putin to 'cooperate in fight against terrorism'

The prospect of Syrian government forces deploying to Afrin triggered a flurry of diplomatic activity, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaking by phone with his Russian and Iranian counterparts.

The Syrian regime is backed by Russia and Iran, both of which also have been working with Turkey to reach a diplomatic solution to the Syrian civil war.  

Monday's developments come a day after a senior Kurdish official told Reuters that the Kurds had reached a deal with Damascus.

Any agreement complicates the conflict in Northern Syria as rivalries and alliances among Kurdish forces, the Syrian government, rebel factions, Turkey, the United States, Iran and Russia become more entangled.

What did Damascus and Kurds say about the deal? 

  • Details of any deal have not been confirmed and Kurdish officials said negotiations are still underway
  • SANA said pro-government fighters known as "popular forces" would enter Afrin. Many popular forces are backed by Iran. 
  • Badran Jia Kurd, an adviser to the Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria, told Reuters that Syrian army troops would deploy along some border positions in the Afrin region. That echoes a previous call from the Kurds for the government to deploy along the border to protect Syria's sovereignty. 
  • Jia Kurd said the agreement with Damascus on Afrin was strictly military with no wider political arrangements, but added: "We can cooperate with any side that lends us a helping hand in light of barbaric crimes and the international silence."
  • Jia Kurd said there is opposition to the deal that could prevent it from being implemented.
  • YPG spokesman Nouri Mahmoud told Reuters: "There is no agreement. There is only a call from us for the
    Syrian army to come in and protect the borders." 

Read more: Are Turkey and Russia at odds in northern Syria?

Mass funeral of Kurdish fighters killed in clashes

What is the Afrin conflict? Ankara and its rebel allies launched an air and ground offensive on the Afrin region on January 20 against the YPG militia. Turkey views the YPG as terrorists with links to PKK insurrection in Turkey.  The YPG is the main component of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which controls about 25 percent of Syrian territory. 

What does a possible deal mean? If the regime and Kurds cut a deal, it could lead to clashes with Turkey or force Ankara to halt its offensive. It is unlikely Turkey will want to clash with Iranian and Russian backed Syrian forces.

Read more: Who are the Kurds?

What is the relationship between the Assad regime and the Kurds?  In 2012, the regime handed control of parts of the north to the Syrian Kurds. The YPG and its allies have established three autonomous cantons in northern Syria that Turkey opposes. Despite occasional minor clashes, the regime and YPG have had a tacit relationship throughout the Syrian civil war. There may be a possibility for a long-term agreement between the two, but the Kurds want autonomy and Assad wants full control over the whole country, including oil and water resources now in Kurdish hands. 

Inside Europe: Turkish forces enter Syria to attack Afrin

Why do the Kurds want help from the Syrian government? "Over the years of the conflict, the Kurds have managed to manoeuvre about, sometimes with the rebels, sometimes with the regime," Bente Scheller from the Heinrich Böll Foundation told DW. "We also saw a long time back that not only the United States wanted to support them as a large international power, but Russia did too. So the Kurds looked for states and powers that support them because they have a lot at stake."

Is the Kurdish-Syrian alliance a beneficial one? "I think in the case of Afrin at any rate," said Scheller, "because there it is very clear that Turkey has decided it has to carry through with an offensive, and the Kurds are in a very difficult position here. Of course, they have support from the other Kurdish-dominated parts of Syria, but obviously they feel this is not enough. There have also been air raids by Turkey and I think this has resulted in their turning to the regime for help."

How does the future look? "As the Syrian conflict escalates and becomes more complex, more individual states consider it necessary to intervene," said Scheller. "Turkey claims it needs to clear all terrorist activity from the other side of its border, but this does not justify crossing the border with its own military ... We are not likely to see peace for a long time."

What happens next? Full details of the deal are yet to emerge. However, cooperation between the regime and YPG in Afrin could also be pivotal as to how the Syrian conflict unfolds further east in where the regime and SDF cooperate and compete, especially around oil-rich Dier ez-Zor.  

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.


cw,kw,dj,dv/rt (Reuters, dpa, Interfax)