Ngotiations between Turkey, Russia and the U.S. will determine the future of Syrian territories that the Trump administration has decided to vacate. Iran, France and the Assad regime will play secondary roles in the process. Finally, the PKK’s Syrian affiliate, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), has been desperately trying to save itself from the bitter end – a permanent removal from those areas.
In addition to the EU and France, the group has been pleading with Russia and the Assad regime for help. Just like in Afrin, YPG militants are trying to start a conflict between Turkey and the regime forces in Manbij. Although the regime was quick to announce that it deployed troops to the area, the Turks denied that claim and accused Damascus of conducting a psychological operation. On Saturday, a Turkish delegation visited Moscow for negotiations over the control of Manbij.
The Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from Syria hurt the PKK’s Syrian affiliate more than any other party. Having been established under orders from PKK founder Abdullah Öcalan, the group’s dream was to establish a Syrian Kurdistan in imaginary cantons along the Turkish border. In other words, they wanted an autonomous zone guarded by armed militants. Like the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, the PKK offshoot wanted recognition. To accomplish that goal, they joined forces with whoever would enlist their services: the Assad regime, Russia, Iran, France and the U.S.
The YPG efforts to pull out of the Manbij pocket and urge the Assad regime to seize that territory is ultimately an own goal. Fully aware that it stands no chance against a NATO army, the group is desperate to find a sponsor. As the U.S. parts ways with its proxy, which served its purpose in the fight against Daesh, there is no reason to believe that any other party will stand behind those second-hand fighters. To be clear, the YPG has nothing on the Assad regime: Damascus will neither grant autonomy to the group nor allow a group of armed militants to call the shots within its borders. Nor can the regime actually shelter YPG militants from Turkey’s imminent military operation. Therefore, the PKK offshoot has no choice but to hand over Manbij and other occupied territories to the Assad regime – to the extent that the Turks will allow it. If the YPG militants threaten Turkey from regime-controlled areas, the Turks will retaliate with new counterterrorism operations.
One more thing: Turkey will maintain a large military footprint in Syria unless the moderate opposition have a safe haven there and will be present if the YPG threat lingers on.
[Daily Sabah, 31 December 2018]