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Turkish military forces' howitzers fire on Afrin on January 23, 2018. Photo: Cem Genco / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Turkey’s incursion into Afrin, in northwestern Syria, marks a significant move in its campaign against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). It was authorized by Russia, with the likely aim of returning local control to the Assad regime, and signals displeasure with the U.S.’s recent announcement of a 30,000-strong border protection force. Rex Tillerson called news of such a force “misportrayed,” but amid conspiracy theories and anti-American sentiment, his clarification came too late.

At this point, there’s little the U.S. and EU can do apart from pressing Turkey to seek moderation and avoid civilian casualties. The EU might also offer cross-border humanitarian assistance on Syrian soil.

The stakes will be raised if and when President Erdogan launches a promised ground operation against the town of Manbij, located at the Western edge of a vast region controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), themselves under the command of the YPG. Because the SDF are backed by U.S. Special Forces, the risk of a U.S.–Turkish confrontation is real.

What's next: Given restrictions on free speech within Turkey, the media is expected to produce a unanimously positive image of the operation. By playing up this limited operation as a major success, Erdogan is attempting to burnish his image as the providential leader best able to steer the country through difficult times.

Marc Pierini is a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe and a former EU ambassador and head of delegation to Turkey.

Go deeper

15 mins ago - Health

Pfizer-BioNTech: Booster doses more effective at blocking Omicron

Prepared doses of the BioNtech-Pfizer Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine in Germany on Dec. 7. Photo: Thomas Kienzle/AFP via Getty Images

Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday that two doses of their COVID-19 vaccine were significantly less effective at neutralizing the Omicron variant in early lab tests, but a three-dose regimen was more effective.

Why it matters: Omicron, which has been labeled a variant of concern by the World Health Organization after being identified by scientists in South Africa last month, has forced vaccine makers to reassess the effectiveness of their vaccines against this specific new form of coronavirus.

Mike Allen, author of AM
21 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden unveils "Building a Better America" branding

President Biden speaks on infrastructure while visiting a bridge in Woodstock, N.H., last month. Photo: John Tully/Getty Images

President Biden today launched a new website and unveiled bold new branding as part of a nationwide tour to sell the benefits of his infrastructure package.

Why it matters: The White House says passage of the new law shows the ability to "forge bipartisan consensus and prove our democracy can deliver big wins" even in these toxic times.

2 hours ago - World

Olaf Scholz sworn in as German chancellor, succeeding Merkel

Incoming German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is sworn in by Bundestag President Bärbel Bas in Berlin today. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Social Democrat Olaf Scholz was sworn in as chancellor of Germany on Wednesday, succeeding Angela Merkel after 16 years and launching a new era of German and European politics.

Why it matters: Scholz, a center-left pragmatist who served as finance minister and vice chancellor in Merkel's last government, will lead Europe's largest economy in a coalition with the environmentalist Greens and pro-business Free Democrats.