Military balance in Efrin, Syria.

In the last weeks after rumors of a Turkish invasion of the Syrian province of Efrin, and after an incendiary speech made by President Recep Tayip Erdogan the likeliness of an assault has become a reality where a lot of people has deeply overestimated the military capability of the Kurdish forces in Efrin, so what we want to show in this article is the military balance in Efrin.

Strategically the importance and location of Efrin can not be worst: It is isolated from the rest of the so-called Rojava, the Kurdish protostate in north Syria. Its importance to fight ISIS has been low depriving them from most of the US support, also the availability of heavy material is almos nule while just a handful tanks and IFVs might be ready to fight.

The Turkish Army on the other side has suffered important purges that may have affected them in some way, however it is still a capable army equipped with hundreds of tanks and ready to suffer heavy casualties in the event of a full-scale war due to its reserves in men and material. Their Air Force is also a capable force armed with modern aircraft, systems and ammunitions.

Turkish tanks manoeuvre during military exercise near Turkish-Iraqi border in Silopi
In spite of the problems of the last years Turkish Army is still a very capable force that has been able to deploy multiple troops throughout its frontier from Syria to Iraq.

In spite of the alleged attrition suffered by Turkish Army we must take in mind that it is a well established army with procedures, tactis and training that even after the purges is able to maintain a good level of preparation. While some appoint at the Turkish lack of readiness due to events such as the battle of Al-Bab against ISIS in our opinion that has more to do with the cooperation with the low quality Free Syriay Army that spearheaded their efforts during Euphrates Shield, also while the casualties suffered by their heavy material can be considered pretty high against a non-state like ISIS that doesn not have an air force or a good armoured force, however the truth is that those are just low figures in comparison to what this armies train for, that is a high intensity warfare against another State.

Opposing to the Turkish Army we find a light infantry guerrilla Kurdish forces armed with a few ATGMs and trusting their antitank defenses to recoilless guns, RPGs and mines, all of them are light antitank weapons unable to penetrate most Turkish MBTs on the front, while that weapons well used can inflict heavy casualties to an unwary enemy as Chechenya war shows it is not likely that Turkish will commit such fails.

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The main motorized vehicle for Efrin Kurdish are their technicals armed with HMGs certainly not enough to deal with an armoured force for a long time.

Kurdish just have the advantage of the terrain thanks to the complicated geography of the province but they can be attacked from various sides forcing them  to disperse their always scarce forces.

Taking in to account all of this we think that if a purely Turkish full-scale invasion happens with let’s say three armoured brigades attacking from various axis heading to the capital they should be able to occupy it in a matter of days, however to use a high intensity conventional force for the attack does not sound the most possible option and rather they will decide to use tha same formula as with ISIS, that is let the FSA lead a slow offensive supported by Turkish artillery, tanks, jets and SFs, this would allow the Turkish to accomplish the mission in more time but with a smaller effort on their part and in our opinion with a force of just an armoured brigade they should be able to provide the necessary backing for the FSA, however the willing to fight of the FSAcan result in certain problems for the Turkish planners.

FSA-militants
FSA has shown a very little combat value, however they are backed by a strong military machine that compenseate its weakness

If this second course of action is followed we can expect situations similar to Al-Bab, with certain tactical victories for the Kurdish but in the end they will be surpassed by a simply overwhelming force.

To support our view we found two interesting stories: On 1991 as we all know Iraqi Army was baddly wounded after a tragical defeat against the International Coalition led by USA, at the end of that war very important Shia and Kurdish revolts started but even the leftovers of the shattered Iraqi Army were able to take control of all places in a short time, that shows that even a relatively primitive army in a very bad status is usually much more powerful than any guerrilla.

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Turkish artillery and air force provide an absolutely overwheling fire power against the Kurdish and against any other actor actually involved in the Syrian conflict.

Another interesting example can be found in Iraq, there the Kurdish Autonomous region has been existing since 2005, they have been able to recruit forces and even to have a certain armoured force, they also account with the prestige of stop ISIS in its tracks and also the support in training and material from the West to fight the yihadists.

At the same time on 2014 the Iraqi Army suffered heavy casualties, disorganization and a huge loose of equipment and after a reorganization and also with the support of the West they were able to ride ISIS out of Mosul after a long and bloody battle.

When ISIS provoked the runaway of the Iraqi Army the Kurdish occupied some polemical territories like the important city of Kirkuk that has a certain Kurdish population. On 2017 while the Iraqi Army was still fighting ISIS on the Western desert and just after the battle of Mosul they threatened the Iraqi-Kurdish to give back Kirkuk, what happened ultimately is that Kurdish left Kirkuk almost without fighting. Iraqi Kurdish had a certain force equipped with some armoured units, they had experience and certain resources and they were fighting one of the weaker Iraqi Armies in the last 60 years and even under this balance they did not feel confident enough to even try to defend Kirkuk in our opinion this is a good example of why normally light infantry forces are far inferior to conventional heavy geared forces.

Before end this article we must take in to account the reasons why Turkey has probably decided to invadie Efrin.

First of all nobody forgets the bad Turkish-Kurdish relation because it is well known that Syrian Kurdish have deep relations with PKK that can find a sanctuary for their actions in Rojava, and also this region represents an undesirable example for the Turkish-Kurdish, the game with  Assad and in certain sense with Russia is also still there.

For Assad the Rojava thing is an internal polemical question, and the final accord between SDF-YPG-Rojava and Bashar al-Assad will probably end in something similar to the Kurdish Autonomous region in Iraq, not just because SAA is quite weak after so much years of war, but also because Russia may find Rojava pretty useful to negotiate, attract or threat Turkey.

Also while the Efrin province has seen less action against ISIS than other Kurdish areas and their isolation has limited the amount of support received both in material and politically, especially from the US it is less likely that its invasion will produce reactions from USA, aslo while Russia places certain buffer zones they do not cover the whole province and in the end Turkish Army is the most capable force in the area by far, even combining SAA, Russian troops and Kurdish they would not likely win a war so the Russian presence has just a limited value.

The direct motivation for the Turkish action might come from the battle of Idlib that now is engaging Turkish and other foreign backed rebels and Assadist forces, the conquest of Efrin would allow the Turkish to give more strategic deepth to Idlib province and also to consolidate the exposed flank of the territory occupied during Euphrates Shield on 2016, the final doubt that we have is if the Turkish plan to use Efrin to boost the rebels in Idlib and resist Assad or if they just want to occupy one last territory before the Idlib campaign ends.

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