Despite all the U.S. and Russian statements affirming Turkey’s right to defend itself — and to deal with the security threats Turkey faces from the other side of the Syrian border — neither country seems to have agreed to a ground military operation against the SDF militia.
In conjunction with clarification about the content of the Russian mediation to defuse tensions — in which Russia announced an offer to deploy the Fifth Corps as an alternative to the SDF in rural Aleppo — U.S. plans are still shrouded in ambiguity, despite the existing contacts between Washington and Autonomous Administration representatives on the topic.
SDF rejects the offer of the Russians
In the SDF’s first comment on the meetings held by some of its leaders with Russian delegates, a senior official in the YPG militia avoided saying that it rejected a Russian offer to vacate the border areas with Turkey in exchange for allowing forces from the Fifth Corps to deploy there. Local sources and observers confirmed that SDF leaders had informed the Russians that they rejected the offer.
Nowruz Ahmed, commander-in-chief of the SDF’s Women’s Protection Units, said on Monday that the SDF leadership had met with representatives of the Russian leadership in Syria. There, the Russians had made an offer that was clearly aimed at “strengthening the Syrian government.”
While Ahmed did not explain the offer’s details, she only said: “We talked with the commander of the Russian forces in Syria, Alexander Chaiko, in general, about the previous agreements we had made with the Russians in this regard. We also discussed the possible measures we can take to prevent a Turkish ground attack,” she added without elaborating.
However, what the official in the SDF-affiliated units did not say was circulated by media sources linked to or close to the party, as these sources confirmed that the meetings that took place over two days ended in failure due to the rejection of the Russian offer by the party’s leaders.
Dimensions and connotations of rejection
According to military analyst Brigadier General Ahmed Rahal, the offer stipulates the withdrawal of PYD forces from Tal Rifaat and its surroundings to Sheikh Maqsoud in Aleppo, from Manbij to the east of the Euphrates, and from the border area adjacent to Turkey in Ain al-Arab, by at least 17 kilometres. The Russian offer also contemplates allowing the Fifth Corps to deploy in these areas, from which the SDF is supposed to withdraw in areas west of the Euphrates. As for the east of the Euphrates, the United States will determine the outcome.
What is the Fifth Corps?
The Fifth Corps, which Russia has offered to deploy in areas from which Turkey demands the SDF’s withdrawal, was established in November 2016 by the Russian occupation forces. Its main source of members is former fighters in opposition factions who reached settlements or people from areas retaken by the regime who have reached the age of conscription but do not want to join the Syrian regime’s army.
Although the Fifth Corps is officially subordinate to the Syrian army, in practice, it operates independently and more like an irregular militia.
But to what extent can the Fifth Corps fill the security and military vacuum that may be left by the SDF’s withdrawal from the areas from which Turkey wants it, whether through negotiations or force, especially since the work of the Fifth Corps is based on the deployment of fighters from each region of volunteers in their areas.
Syrian opposition military sources ruled out that the Corps would be able to meet this, especially since the area that Ankara requires the SDF to leave is vast, while there are not a large number of people from these areas affiliated with it. Zain al-Abidine al-Okaidi, the correspondent of Orient Net in northeastern Syria, pointed out that the past two years have witnessed an accelerated growth in the recruitment of members by commanders of the Fifth Corps, especially from the countryside of Aleppo, Raqqa and Deir-ez-Zor.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.