UN tries to save the people as Turkish forces race into Syria
Several UN agencies are ringing loud alarm bells at the harm to civilians arising from the incursion of Turkish forces in north-east Syria to create a 20 mile-wide and 450-mile long safe zone along its border by pushing out Kurdish forces allied to the US.
Turkey continues to race forward undeterred and is voicing its own outrage at what it sees as unfair accusations of harm. It began a military incursion last Wednesday to prevent Kurdish YPG forces, which it says are anti-Turkish terrorists, from permanently occupying the border areas on the Syrian side.
The UN office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which is at the front line, said today the security situation in north-eastern Syria “remains highly volatile with continued reports of airstrikes and ground attacks as the military operation continues”.
“At least 160,000 people have been displaced since the start of military operations” as people flee south from the border areas. Provision of water and bread has been suspended since 13 October at a camp affecting about 13,000 people.
The World Food Programme, also at the frontline, said it has provided food assistance to more than 83,000 people fleeing towns in northeast Syria and has the capacity to reach over 450,000 people in the area with just one round of ready-to-eat food packages.
The human exodus moving southwards could reach nearly a million even as Russian and Syrian government troops rush northwards. The troops are capturing territory that YPG had grabbed from the Islamic State with US help and was ruling as an American protectorate but with governance methods usual for Kurds. Their methods alienated the majority Syrian Arabs in the area since Kurds have a language and national identity very different from Arabs and Turks.
The UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) expressed deep concern at the “rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in northern Syria, where heavy fighting is displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians.”
“Many of Syria’s 6.1 million internally displaced have been repeatedly forced from their homes, in some cases after they have returned to their communities. Between May and August of this year, fighting displaced an estimated 400,000 Syrians in the northwest of the country. Continued military operations will have devastating consequences for the seven million people living in Northern Syria,” IOM chief Antonio Vitorino said.
Turkey calls it incursion Operation Peace Spring and is determined to “remove all terrorist elements in northeastern Syria” according to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkey says it has reached “the limit of its tolerance” for refugee flows from Syria and the existential threat posed by YPG forces, backed by the US, alongside its border with Syria. The YPG is aligned with the PKK, a militant group that has fought the Turkish government for over 30 years and is designated as a terrorist organization by the UN, the US and European Union.
Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, Turkey has felt the humanitarian crisis acutely. It took in 3.6 million Syrian refugees and says it has spent $40 billion so far to look after them.
Abandoned by the Trump administration, YPG is trying to get backing from the Syrian government of Basher al-Assad. That has allowed Russia-backed Syrian forces to advance rapidly northwards and they are expected to retake lucrative oil fields, electricity dams and the best agricultural land that fell into YPG hands from the Islamic State.
Considerable fear persists of a resurgence of Islamic State and al Qaeda terrorism in the chaos of these several military movements but the Syrian Army and Russians are likely to be merciless.
The YPG had hoped to establish an autonomous territory on almost one-third of Syria with US help. But that hope is shattered because it is now forced to seek Assad’s protection against the Turkish military, which is a modern force and a vital NATO ally despite its defiance of the Trump administration.
These are early days and the situation on the ground is very confused but the likely outlook is for Assad to retake all of his previous territory apart from the 20-mile-wide strip that Turkey expects to hold.
That means the final determinants for an end to the Syrian wars will be Assad and the Russians, Iranians and Turks. The US may find itself edged out entirely along with its allies Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates.
If Turkey manages to secure its safe zone quickly, the next steps may be taken at an UN-sponsored meeting in Geneve at the end of October to advance towards a new Syrian constitution. The YPG is not invited to that meeting.