ON January 20th Turkey launched a military operation (optimistically dubbed “Olive Branch”) in Syria's north-western enclave of Afrin. It started with over a hundred airstrikes in the space of several hours. When NATO’s second-largest army last entered Syria, in the autumn of 2016, its aim was to remove Islamic State (IS) militants from stretches of land overlooking the border. This time, the targets of their bombs were members of a Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, pledged not to leave Syria until his troops had killed all the insurgents in Afrin.
Mr Erdogan’s government has long considered the YPG to be the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), whose insurgency against Turkey’s armed forces over three decades ago marked the start of a war that has since claimed some 40,000 victims. Turkey hardly distinguishes between the two Kurdish groups, and lists both as terrorist organisations. But its Western allies, and most crucially the United...Continue reading