On March 18, the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) established full control over the city of Afrin.
The city had been the main stronghold of the YPG in northeastern Syria. However, the YPG had withdrawn from it almost without fighting. A notable part of civilians had also fled to the government-held area in the province of Aleppo.
According to Turkish sources, the TAF and the FSA captured a large number of weapons and ammunition, including US-made TOW and Russian-made Konkurs anti-tank guided missiles, in Afrin.
Turkish President Recept Erdogan announced that Ankara “will have to take necessary steps to rebuild Afrin, raise infrastructure and wipe out traces of terrorists.”
“We are not there to occupy but to wipe out terror groups and to achieve peace in Afrin,” he added. However, experts doubt that Turkish forces will leave Afrin voluntarily any time soon.
Following the success in Afrin, the TAF and the FSA advanced north and northwest of the city capturing 29 more villages, which had been mostly abandoned by YPG members also. The YPG and its political wing, the PYD, sacrificed Afrin for its political ambitions rejecting all opportunities to reconcile with the Damascus government and to receive a help from the Syrian-Iranian-Russian alliance.
In Eastern Ghouta, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies have liberated the areas of Saqba and Kafr Batna from Faylaq al-Rahman and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda). By March 19, the SAA had prepared to storm Ain Terma, Zamalka and Ebreen.
Reports also circulate that members of Faylaq al-Rahman are now negotiating a withdrawal agreement with Damascus. However, any wide-scale agreement will likely be not possible while Hayat Tahrir al-Sham keeps notable presence in the area.
Negotiations are also ongoing in the areas of Harasta and Douma.
In eastern Qalamoun militants attacked SAA positions near the al-Sin airbase capturing a T-72 battle tank and shooting down a Su-24, or MiG-23 – it is complicated to identify from the released video, warplane of the Syrian Air Force.
US-backed militant groups operating in the at-Tanf area are preparing to attack the SAA in eastern Syria, the Syrian pro-opposition news outlet Enab Baladi reported citing Mohanad al-Talaa, a commander of the so-called Revolutionary Commando Army.
Meanwhile, reports appeared that US-backed forces had been massing troops on the eastern bank of the Euphrates.
Syrian analysts consider a possibility that the US and its proxies may use some provocation, a shelling or a staged chemical attack, to attack government forces in eastern Syria. Such scenario becomes more likely as tensions between Russia and the US are growing.