Abstract: The PYD-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) has been facing various thorny challenges in different realms ever since the launch of Operation Peace Spring. A climate of uncertainty with regards to the future continues to govern the atmosphere in Northeastern Syria. The AANES’s present situation can best be described as unpredictable, given the fact that alliances from different sides are continuously being tested in Syria. The political status of the Autonomous Administration has not changed despite many rounds of negotiations with both Damascus and Russia. On top of this, the Covid-19 pandemic has become a novel challenge to the AANES.

Introduction

October 9, 2019, marks an important turning point for both the presence and future of the PYD-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES). The sudden withdrawal decision of US troops from Syria announced by Donald Trump on October 7, which came amidst Turkey’s long standing pressure on creating a safe zone along its borders in Northeastern Syria, paved the way for Turkey to initiate Operation Peace Spring on the areas ruled by the AANES. Prior to the AANES, the PYD had provided social services to the population under its controls through Democratic Autonomous Administration (DAA), which was a structure of local governance systems comprised of local councils and assemblies across three main cantons[i] (Afrin, Jazira, and Kobane) declared in 2014. The DAA later evolved into AANES as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) of which the YPG consists as a backbone expanded its influence towards Arab-populated areas such as Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor.

The fragile security situation in Northeastern Syria, which was further exacerbated with the military operation, led to a massive reaction in favor of the YPG/SDF[ii] [iii] specifically from Western civic organizations and countries. Soon after the initiation of the military assault, the White House cadres pushed the situation towards a more manageable direction. First phone calls and demands were made and later a US delegation headed by Vice President Mike Pence was sent to Turkey. In the wake of the tense negotiations, Pence announced that he and the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had brokered a five-day-long ceasefire. According to the agreement, the main point was the following: the Turkish side would pause Operation Peace Spring in order to allow the YPG elements to withdraw from the projected safe zone within the specified time slot.

Although the operation continued in the aftermath of the 120-hour long ceasefire, though not as planned initially, Turkey concentrated more on two axes in an attempt to capture the two road’s junctions “Tel Tamr and Ain Issa” which are located on the strategic M4 international highway.[iv] The SDF from its side was trying to minimize damages incurred from the sudden withdrawal of the US troops and the ongoing Turkish operation. Thus, from the very beginning of the operation, the organization entered a complex negotiation process with both the Syrian regime and Russia. The process resulted in an agreement on October 13.[v] The agreement included deploying Border Guards[vi] belonging to the Syrian Army on the border with Turkey, both on the international border, and on Operation Peace Spring’s final boundaries. On October 21, US President Donald Trump adjusted the withdrawal plan by deciding to keep several hundred US soldiers in Eastern Syria for the following reasons as some of the US officials presented[vii]: protecting oil wells,[viii] preventing ISIS from regrouping, facing the Iranian influence and pushing it out of Syria and affecting the Syrian political process. Moreover, the next day, before the completion of the 5-day long ceasefire, President Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin reached a new agreement that foresaw the withdrawal of SDF-YPG forces from the North to the South for 30 kilometers deep.[ix] From, October 22 onwards, most of the steps were moving according to the Sochi ceasefire agreement, except for the situation around Ain Issa, and Tel Tamr, where clashes continued until the SDF’s agreement with the regime was activated by deploying border guards on the frontlines of Tel Tamr town[x] and some other areas like in Kobane.

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