The Syrian Civil War has become a perpetual conflict: Aaron Stein

The Syrian Civil War has become a perpetual conflict: Aaron Stein

Turkish army howitzers stand in firing position as they guard near the Turkish-Syrian border close to the Suruc district in Sanliurfa [EPA]

On Saturday, February 13, the Turkish Armed Forces opened fire on fighters from the Kurdish-dominated People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Jaysh al-Thuwar, an Arab majority militia, near Syria’s border town of Azaz. These two groups have taken advantage of the recent Russian and regime-led offensive north of Aleppo city to challenge the rebel-held towns of Tel Rifaat and Azaz.

Turkey’s actions suggest that it is prepared to defend the town from the YPG, lest it otherwise risk the town falling to groups Ankara deems as hostile. The YPG is the Syrian affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Turkish and United States designated terror group

Absent a Turkish ground incursion, or deft diplomacy, it is unlikely that Turkey can stem the YPG’s advance in the Azaz corridor. The YPG has managed to secure support from the two most powerful external actors in the Syrian conflict: the Russian Federation and the US.

The Kurdish factor

The US is currently working with the YPG to put pressure on Raqqa, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group’s de facto capital in eastern Syria. Russia, in contrast, is using the Syrian Kurds to put pressure on Turkey and fracture the anti-ISIL coalition. The Russian strategy, in turn, would empower Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s bargaining power at the concurrent peace talks in Geneva.

The YPG’s opportunistic exploitation of these two alliances serves its immediate interest: Connecting its territory in Afrin with Kobane and Jazira in the west of the Euphrates. However, the tolerance of the regime towards the YPG makes the possibility of rapprochement with Arab groups in the area extremely difficult – if not impossible. Turkey has sought to exploit these cleavages and prevent elements within the anti-Assad opposition from cooperating with the YPG in Azaz and Aleppo

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