French expert on international crisis and defense Hadrien Desuin considers Turkey’s victory in Afrin impossible. The solution for Syria is not political but military, according to Desuin.
In an interview with ANF, military expert Hadrien Desuin comments on the Turkish attacks on Afrin, focusing on the target of these attacks, the groups involved, the attitude of Russia, the US and NATO, and the complex situation in Syria. He explains that the Turkish-Russian alliance is very cyclical and could break anytime.
“The ISIS has never been the priority of Turkey”
Why did the Turkish state attack Afrin, even though the ISIS lost the war because of Kurds and Raqqa was liberated?
ISIS was never the main objective of Turkey. On the contrary, Turkey was objectively allied with the “Islamic State”, as was evident in the siege of Kobanê. The defeat of the ISIS [in Kobanê] has torn a gap and forced Turkey to hurry with the fear that now the Syrian Kurds could unite their three cantons. Later, the Kurdish forces seized Raqqa in front of the nose of Turkey and advanced along the Euphrates to the Iraqi border. Despite the battles in Manbij and Bab, due to the protection provided by the US or Russia, a stable balance was established between Turkey and the Kurds. Turkey has now taken back the initiative with its operation “olive branch” from domestic interests.
Who are the armed groups participating in the invasion under Turkish command?
The Turkish military assigned this role to very different groups. The military prefers to operate behind the curtain. It is not possible to do a complete inventory of these groups because they are very different. Apart from the Turkmen minorities, there are former al-Nusra fighters, Tahrir El Sham and Jaysh al-Islam, known in Western Europe as “insurgents” or “Free Syrian Army”, who are in fact dangerous and extreme jihadist Arab groups that are part of various Takfiri coalitions. [Takfiri are sectarian groups that call other Muslims apostates and persecute them as such]
“The alliance with Russia is strongly cyclical and can break anytime”
What role does Russia play in the invasion?
Russia played no role in the Turkish invasion. Just because they thought they would be able to maneuver better in the talks between Sochi and Astana and that the alliance with Turkey would not break, they decided to withdraw from Afrin and open the airspace to the Turkish planes. On the other hand, they have been given the opportunity to resume their operations in the south of Idlib and Guta.
Can the Russian-Turkish alliance last?
This alliance is very fragile, with Turkey allied simultaneously with the US and the US allied with the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces). The Turkish-Russian alliance is a temporary, strongly cyclical alliance and can break any moment. Now that Turkey has stabilized a few miles along its border with the Canton of Afrin and faces the Syrian army, the Turkish-Russian alliance has entered a more precarious phase. It’s just logical for the Turkish operation to stop at this point. Russia will not allow a high-intensity conflict between Turkey and Syria. Especially after the failure of the Sochi talks Russia will not allow it.
“The Kurds have many cards in their hands”
What is the attitude of the US towards the attacks of Turkey?
Like the Russians, the US has a very soft attitude towards Turkey. Both the Russians and the Americans are afraid of losing Turkey to the other side. They are in a very subtle mutual game. But the Kurds are also part of this game and they have a lot of cards in their hand, including the areas they control. The Kurds are able to sharpen Damascus’ attitude towards Turkey in a masterly manner. Sochi has no use for Turkey and Turkey has no serious control over the so-called Syrian opposition. If we look at it in general, then the US does not want to get into an argument with Turkey.
“Syria does not interest NATO, the only real enemy is Russia”
The attacks of Turkey have killed many civilians, including children. We had to see terrible pictures. How can one explain if civilians are killed by a NATO-backed army of groups referred to by the West as “jihadists” and NATO weapons are also used?
In many respects, Turkey is not in line with NATO’s recurring values such as democracy and human rights. But NATO still does not react and allows it. NATO, in other words, the US in Europe, shows in this case an even coward position than the EU, and that is an incredible achievement in any case. Turkey has a strategically important strategic position vis-à-vis NATO’s only true enemy, Russia. Syria does not interest NATO. The only war that interests them is the new cold war with Russia.
“A Pyrrhic victory for Turkey”
Turkey said it would be able to invade Afrin within three hours, but it is still on the spot. If one recognizes that this is NATO’s second largest army, what does that tell us?
You can really speak of a Pyrrhic victory. In other words, the cost of Turkey is extremely high and the attack is still incomplete. The Turkish forces are unwilling to accept the human losses of a battle over Afrin. And even the public cannot understand such an adventure.
“A win for Turkey is impossible, it can be pushed into a defensive position”
In contrast, Kurdish troops defend their territory and are ready to die. In this situation, the Turkish military is likely to stop the advance of the army and try to stabilize the front despite warlike explanations from the leadership. Now that the Kurds have found a basis for defending Afrin with Damascus, the victory of Turkey is doubtful, it is actually impossible. Turkey can step into a defensive position to consolidate its positions.
“Hegemonic war continues”
From the beginning of the war in Syria, we have seen how the balance of power between actors and alliances can change from one day to the next. With the defeat of the ISIS, the war has reached a new dimension. How do you define a fight with so many actors? Is this a world war? How many wars are taking place during this war? What else is coming?
It is true that the situation has not been made easier by the end of the ISIS because the Syrian civil war with its regional sponsors behind it goes on. Although Americans and Russians fight indirectly, I do not think we can talk about a global conflict. The battlefield remains regional and is usually limited to Syria. On the other hand, the neighbors of Syria, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel are key players and do not put their full potential in this war. At the moment we are still in a hegemonic war.
“The solution in Syria will be a military one and the winner will dictate peace”
Contrary to the assumption that has prevailed for seven years, the solution to the Syrian conflict is not political or diplomatic, but military. The winner will dictate the peace. If the status quo continues, there will be a division and lasting instability in the Middle East. That is not to be desired. The Syrians, including the Kurds, must regain their military sovereignty and step by step refrain from all regional intervention, regardless of from whom it is.