Turkey’s coming war on Rojava: where, when and why is Turkey threatening to invade?

Since Turkey occupied Afrin in March 2018, the situation in Rojava’s westernmost canton has continued to deteriorate. Turkish-backed militias have begun to impose sharia law, kidnap, murder and torture civilians, and commit human rights violations possibly amounting to war crimes, per Amnesty International[1].

Despite the rapid deterioration of the security situation and humanitarian conditions in Afrin, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has long proclaimed his intention to extend the occupation.

His stated aim is to secure the border region which hosts all of Rojava’s major, majority-Kurdish cities, on the basis that Rojava is a staging post for attacks into Turkish territory. But a BBC investigation found the Turkish government had grossly inflated the figures cited to justify its incursions into Syria, claiming a figure of 700 cross-border incidents originating from Afrin alone when in reality Turkey only experienced 26 cross-border attacks from the whole of Syria combined.[2]

From the day his troops seized Afrin onward, President Erdoğan has issued threats toward the cities of Manbij and Kobane. Manbij was liberated from ISIS control by the SDF and has since established its own independent council in alliance with Rojava, while Kobane was the site of YPG/J’s historic resistance to an ISIS siege in 2014-15.

Unlike Afrin, both of these cities are currently home to US army bases and ground troops, created as a result of the SDF’s collaboration with the US-led coalition in the ongoing fight against ISIS.

Recent months have seen an increase in cross-border shelling, targeted around Kobane and border towns like Tel Abyad (Gire Spi), with several civilian casualties as a result. Like the invasion of Afrin, these attacks have on occasion forced the SDF to suspend their ongoing fight against ISIS.

In recent weeks, Turkish-backed militias have been deployed to the border, and toward the end of 2018 President Erdoğan announced that the invasion east of the Euphrates river into the remaining cantons of Rojava would begin “in the next days”[3].

These threats were given new urgency by US President Donald Trump’s shock announcement that American troops would withdraw from North Eastern Syria in the coming weeks or months, opening the door to a Turkish invasion.

President Erdoğan has launched multiple air strikes against Shengal, the Yazidi homeland which the YPG/J saved from further genocide, rape and enslavement at the hands of ISIS in 2014. Turkish planes also struck a Kurdish refugee camp in Makhmour, Iraq, killing four civilian women including a 14-year-old and her 73-year-old grandmother[4].

As in Afrin, any ground assault will be carried out by the Turkish-backed National Army, supported by Turkish air strikes, shelling and armoured troops.

You can read our report on the war crimes committed by the groups gathered under the banner of the Turkish-backed National Army, and their open affiliation with extremist groups like Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (al-Qaeda in Syria), here.

You can also follow the Rojava Information Center on Twitter for breaking news updates as the situation develops.

[1]              Amnesty International, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/08/syria-turkey-must-stop-serious-violations-by-allied-groups-and-its-own-forces-in-afrin/

[2]              BBC, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-43262839

[3]              The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/12/turkey-primed-to-start-offensive-against-us-backed-kurds-in-syria

[4]              Makhmour People’s Council, https://anfenglish.com/news/identities-of-four-women-killed-by-turkey-in-makhmur-announced-31390