Is Turkey preparing another military intervention in Syria against the Kurdish/YPG enclave of Afrin?
On August 24, 2016 Turkish mechanized and special forces, in coordination with their rebel allies (FSA, the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, Failaq al-Sham, and the Sultan Murat Brigade, etc.) invaded northern Syria.1 The first target of this operation, known as Euphrates Shield, was ISIL-held Jarablus. Once that objective was captured the Turks and their allies continued south towards al-Bab.
It took 7 more months to advance ~30 kilometers into Syrian territory and capture al-Bab, after which Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım declared “Operation Euphrates Shield has been successful and is finished.”2 However, he left the possibility open for further Turkish military action in Syria saying “Any operation following this one will have a different name,” and while the Euphrates Shield offensive ended, Turkish troops still have remained in northern Syria.3
Turkey’s official reason for their intervention in northern Syria was to create an ISIL-free zone stretching from Azaz to Jarablus along the Turkish border, which would prevent ISIL from launching cross border attacks against Turkey. But in reality what Turkey was attempting to establish was a Kurdish-free zone. This would prevent the Kurds of Afrin in the west and Kobani in the east from linking up and de facto establishing their desired state of Rojava, which would stretch all along Turkey’s border with Syria. The creation of such a state is anathema for Turkey.
Furthermore Turkish President Erdoğan has admitted another reason for invading northern Syria: “We entered there to end the rule of the tyrant al-Assad who terrorizes with state terror. [We didn’t enter] for any other reason.”4 So Turkey’s primary motivation is to combat Assad and the Kurds, not ISIL.
Recognizing this will help us better understand what appears to be currently unfolding in northern Syria. There are now reports that Turkish troops and armor is being deployed to Azaz, part of their ISIL-free zone in Syria.5 According to pro-Kurdish sources these reinforcements are to be used in an upcoming offensive against the Kurdish YPG enclave of Afrin.6 Surprisingly these sources are also reporting that Assad’s Syrian Arab Army (SAA) will be participating in this anti-Kurdish offensive.
That Afrin would be targeted by Turkey should come as little surprise, especially if one reads the columns of journalist İbrahim Karagül. For the past couple of months he has been repeatedly writing that Turkey must move on Afrin and other targets in Syria and Iraq.7 A few days after Euphrates Shield started he warned that Afrin and other centers would be used by those against Turkey to destabilize the country:8
“Because these plans [those of the US] are aimed to divide both Syria and Turkey. Hence, the PKK/PYD activity starting from Afrin to Qamishli needs to be stopped, the demographic intervention in the region must be prevented. Because these forces are once again going to be used in an open war against Turkey at the first opportunity, and strike Turkey both from within and without.”
In October he advocated that more Euphrates Shield like operations be launched in Syria and Iraq. He said:9 “For example, a similar break-out operation [Euphrates Shield] should be conducted from Afrin, from Tal Abyad. Areas of intervention that will go as deep as Tal Afar, as deep as Mosul on Iraqi lands against those who try to keep us away from the Mosul issue.” Then he wrote: “To put it more openly, if necessary, Turkey should make plans to enter Tal Afar militarily by pushing the limits. Turkey should start preparing for a deep break-through operation on Syrian territory from Afrin and Tal Abyad, similar to the Euphrates Shield.”10
In another article Karagül once again he reiterated his point that “The entire zone spanning Qandil and Afrin is now a war zone for us and regardless of the cost, it must be cleared. Turkey must intervene in this zone without taking seriously the objection of any country.”11 He also made it be known that ISIL should not be main target of Turkey in Syria: “Kobani, Afrin, Tal Abyad, Manbij, all these regions must be purged, PKK elements must be eliminated. Daesh should not be our sole target in this area; we should not allow ourselves to be blinded by focusing on Daesh alone.”12
Beyond what Karagül has been incessantly writing about, President Erdoğan has also made it known that he will not tolerate a Kurdish state on his southern border. In an Eid al-Adha message he said “In our south, in northern Syria the PYD and YPG are trying to do things. You should know that regardless of those standing with or behind you, Turkey, with its armed forces and all its capabilities, won’t allow the establishment of a state in northern Syria.”13
In a recent speech he also warned that another Euphrates Shield like-operation would be carried out if necessary:
“If the ongoing negative developments in Syria pose a threat against our borders in the future, if we are faced with such an incident, then the whole world should know that we will do the same things we did during the Euphrates Shield Operation. Everyone should know this
The PYD and the YPG are terror groups. Unfortunately they insisted on working with them. … So we told them, ‘In case of even the slightest threat against our country, we will do what’s necessary without consulting anyone.’”
So if Turkey does make a move on Afrin, there has been plenty of forewarning by people like Karagül and Erdoğan himself. And if a move is made on the YPG enclave of Afrin, then expect Turkey to advance towards the east against Kobani, Qamishli and Tal Abyad.
 http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/03/turkey-ends-euphrates-shield-operation-syria-170329211428970.html , http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/02/turkish-backed-syrian-rebels-seize-al-bab-isil-170223123852238.html
 http://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2017/06/22/526113/turkey-syria-azaz-troop-ypg , https://southfront.org/turkey-deploying-more-howitzers-and-vehicles-to-northern-syria-for-alleged-attack-on-kurdish-held-afrin-area/
 http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-to-thwart-regional-plots-president-erdogan-.aspx?pageID=238&nID=114710&NewsCatID=510 , https://www.dailysabah.com/war-on-terror/2017/06/23/turkey-will-not-hesitate-to-launch-new-operations-in-syria-if-it-faces-new-threats-erdogan-says