On 29 March, the magazine Marianne brought the news that a delegation of members of the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) met with French President Emmanuel Macron. According to Marianne, it was decided to “squarely oppose” the expansion of the Turkish ‘Operation Olive Branch‘.

The article continues by claiming “Afrin is no longer alone”, referring to the Northern Syrian city overrun by Turkish forces, and that

In an unexpected turnaround, Emmanuel Macron received on Thursday 29 March a delegation consisting of four female and two male (Kurds, Arabs and Christian) members of the Syrian Democratic Forces in the Presidential Palace, who arrived in Paris two days ago. After giving the impression of abandoning the allies of the international anti-Daech coalition, the president of the Republic now seems to have decided on confronting the extension of Operation Olive Branch, launched by Turkey on 20 January, head on.

Marianne adds that, according to unofficial sources, the most spectacular decision consists of sending French soldiers to coordinate with the American troops already stationed in Mabij, 100 Km East of Afrin. The Kurdish media outlet Kurdistan24 even ran an article with the headline “French Special Forces to be deployed in Manbij very quickly: Macron to Syrian Kurdistan delegation“.

Together, this force should then block any advances by the Turks towards this town. Multiple members of the Turkish government, including Erdogan, have already communicated the Turkish intention to clear Northern Syria – roughly the area East of the Turkish coastal region, North of Aleppo, right up to the Iraqi border – of ‘Kurdish terrorist’ enclaves. French activity in the area would pit three NATO-members with (very) diverging goals in one arena. since the US is already entrenched alongside the Kurds.

However, it should be stressed that these are unofficial reports. The official press release by the Elysée makes no mention of the sending of ground forces. Le Parisien writes that:

“In the aftermath of these announcements, Paris on Friday denied military reinforcements” and assures that there will be no new ground operation in Northern Syria, outside of the international anti-Daesh coalition.”

Instead, in line with earlier communiques, it praised the SDF for its sacrifices, calls the PKK ‘terrorist’ and acknowledges SDF attempts at disassociating from them. It also says it wants to “stabilize” North-Eastern Syria, while recognizing Turkey’s need for security.

However, during a press conference, the Kurds said something else altogether, leading to speculation. One of the Kurdish representatives, Asiya Abdellah, announced that France would be sending forces to Manbij, the next town on Erdogan’s hitlist. According to Le Parisien, Abdellah said:”The cooperation will be strengthened.” Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (Rojava) representative in France, Khaled Issa, went even further, being quoted as saying:

France will reinforce its military forces.

Le Parisien speculates that perhaps Macron was jolted into action by the remark made by former President François Hollande, who criticised French passivity with regard to the Kurdish drama a fortnight ago. It also asks the very pertinent question, what French soldiers would be doing in the region. Would they help the tens of thousands of civilian refugees displaced by the Turks and Jihadists to return to Afrin?

That Macron himself has said nothing about sending in French soldiers, is stressed by Le Parisien as well. The French President is, however, working on putting diplomatic pressure on Ankara, while endeavoring to get the EU and EU member states to do the same:

Not a forgone conclusion, as some prefer to spare the Turkish giant that doesn’t hesitate – behind the scenes – to threaten migration blackmail.

The Turks, meanwhile, are not playing ball. As Le Parisien reported on Friday 30 March, Ankara has rejected French mediation. Government spokesman Ibrahim Kalin was categorical:

We reject all efforts to promote a dialogue, contacts or mediation between Turkey and these terrorist groups. (…) Instead of taking measures that could be interpretated as conferring legitimacy on terrorist organisations, the countries that we consider friends and allies must take a firm stand against terrorism in all its forms. The different names and forms by which we know them cannot hide the true identity of a terrorist organisation.

Turkey fears that these groups will lend legitimacy to an autonomous Kurdistan in Syria, which in turn will reinforce Kurdish ambitions for self-determination in Turkey. This is the motive behind the, Syrian approved, offensive against Afrin.