1. There’s no real question over their capacity to do it – the main question will be to what extent they will need Turkish ground support, in addition to the Turkish armor and air support they are already getting.
I assume that Erdogan wants to get this over with the TSAF doing the majority of the fighting (and incurring most of the casualties) for domestic PR reasons.
2. The other question is whether – or more like when – the TSAF moves on Manbij (the Rojava-controlled territories west of the Euphrates).
3. Turkey has wanted to do this for a long time; there have been intermittent rumors of an Afrin offensive for well more than a year now.
Although the surface explanation is terrorism, namely the YPG’s alleged links with the KPP, it seems there are more germane explanations.
a) Turkey does not want a Kurdish state stretching almost all the way to the Mediterranean.
b) It can create a “safe zone” to repatriate its Syrian refugees there, who constitute a political liability in Turkey as in the EU.
c) Added bonus – as Erdogan has all but admitted – is to tilt the region’s demographics into a Sunni Arab direction.
d) With the SAA/RuAF slicing away at the Idlib pocket, this will provide the rebels with a strategic rear.
4. Afrin has long maintained better relations with Russia than with Rojava, which has pretty much exclusively tied itself up with the United States. This is not something that Russia is happy to see.
Russia seems to have acquiesced, possibly in return for the Turks giving the go-ahead on Syria taking the territories east of the M5 motorway through Idlib.
At least that’s the face they’re putting on it, anyway.
With Turkey reportedly committing 2 brigades and 72 fighters to the operation, there is nothing that Russia with its tiny police contingent in Afrin could do even if it wanted to, anyway.
How the drone assaults on Khmeimim tie in with this, if at all, I leave for others to speculate on.
5. Syria of course isn’t going to be doing anything either, apart from muttering completely formulaic threats to shoot down Turkish jets violating its sovereignty.
Ergo for Iran, which has also expressed its opposition.
6. We can now start to delineate the future outline of Syria, which will be split into the following spheres of influence (see map above):
- Iran, Russia: Syria proper
- Turkey: Idlib west of the M5, and the Rojava-claimed territories west of the Euphrates
- USA: Rojava east of the Euphrates
Having failed to achieve its initial goal of an Islamist government ruling over all of Syria, I suppose the end goal of Turkey now would be to reintegrate its sphere of influence into a future federalized Syria. Consequently, its continued insistence that Assad does not have a future as part of a Syria solution.