Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Explainer: What is behind Turkey’s threats of incursion into Syria?

BEIRUT ( Associated Press) — In northern Syria, residents prepare for a new battle. The world’s attention is focused on the war in UkraineTurkey’s leader says he is planning a major military operation to push back Syrian Kurdish fighters and create a long-sought buffer zone in the border region.

Tensions are high. Hardly a day passes without fire and shelling between US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters, and Turkish forces and Turkish-backed Syrian opposition gunmen.

Analysts say Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is taking advantage of the war in Ukraine to advance his goals in neighboring Syria – even as Turkey’s potential as a NATO member could be exploited by Finland and Sweden. As are the benefits to veto the membership of the alliance.,

But a major invasion by Ankara comes with risks and complications, threatening to worsen Turkey’s relations with both the United States and Russia. It also risks creating a new wave of displacement in a war-ravaged region where the Islamic State group still lurks in the shadows.,

Here’s a look at the situation on the ground and some of the key issues:

Turkey’s ambitions

Erdogan outlined plans last month To resume Turkey’s efforts to create a 30-kilometre (19 mi) deep buffer zone in Syria along its southern border through cross-border incursions against US-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters. Erdogan wanted to create that territory in 2019, but a military operation failed to achieve it.

“We will suddenly come down on them one night. And we must,” Erdogan said without giving a specific timeline.

Since 2016, Turkey has launched three major operations inside Syria targeting Syria’s main Kurdish militia – People’s Protection Units, or YPG – which Turkey considers a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. The PKK has waged an insurgency within Turkey against the government in Ankara for decades.

However, the YPG is the backbone of US-led forces in the fight against Islamic State militants and has been a proven top US ally in Syria.

Turkey already controls a large part of Syrian territory through the last three military operations in Syria, including the towns of Afrin, Tel Abyad and Jarablus. Ankara plans to build thousands of housing units in those areas to ensure that 1 million of the 3.7 million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey will have a “voluntary return”.

Erdogan said on Wednesday that Turkish troops are now aiming to capture new areas including the cities of Tel Rifat and Manbij, located at a major intersection of roads on Syria’s west-east highway known as the M4. Turkey says Syrian Kurdish fighters use Tel Rifat as a base to attack areas held by Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters.

There have also been reports that Turkish forces may enter the strategic border town of Kobani, where US forces and Kurdish fighters first united in 2015 to defeat IS. The city is a powerful symbol for the Syrian Kurds and their ambitions for self-rule in this part. of Syria.

Why now?

Analysts say Erdogan sees a confluence of circumstances, both international and domestic, with timely operations in Syria. The Russians are engaged in a war in Ukraine, and the Americans need Erdogan to drop their objections to the expansion of NATO to include Finland and Sweden.

“They (Turks) see an opportunity to try and get concessions from the West,” said Aaron Stein, head of research at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.

A Syria invasion could also be used to rally Turkish nationalist voters at a time when their economy is in decline, with inflation running around 70%. Turkey is set to hold presidential and parliamentary elections next year, and previous incursions into Syria to oust the YPG have strengthened Erdogan’s support in the last vote.

So far, there are no signs of mobilization pointing to an imminent invasion, although Turkish forces may be called in fairly quickly. However, Syrian Kurdish fighters say they are taking the latest Turkish threat seriously and are preparing for a possible attack.

He warned that an incursion would affect their ongoing fight against IS and their ability to defend prisons in northern Syria, where thousands of extremists, many of them foreign nationals, were forced to defeat IS regionally three years ago. has since been closed.

Turkey’s US-Russia Relations

A large-scale military operation carries high risk and is likely to anger both the US and Russia, which also have a military presence in northern Syria.

Turkey and Russia support rival sides in Syria’s 11-year conflict, but are coordinating closely in the country’s north. while Russia While it has not officially commented, according to Syrian opposition activists, it has sent fighter jets and helicopter gunships to a base close to the border with Turkey in recent days.

As one of Damascus’ closest allies, Russia’s role in Syria It has been paramount in turning the tide of the conflict in Syria – which began in the midst of the Arab Spring uprising in 2011 – in favor of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Syrian opposition fighters were relocated to an enclave in the northwest and Turkish sphere of influence.

But with Moscow’s focus on Ukraine, it is unlikely that Vladimir Putin will stand in Erdogan’s way in what is essentially a strip of land along Turkey’s southern border.

Washington has clarified its opposition to Turkey’s military incursion, saying it would risk a hard-fought victory in the campaign against IS.

“We recognize Turkey’s legitimate security concerns on our border. But again, we are concerned that any new aggression will further undermine regional stability,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

The analyst, Stein, said any operation would be complicated because of the Russian presence in both potential hotspots, Kobani and Tel Rifat.

Whether an operation takes place boils down to the question of how far Erdogan is prepared to go in Syria, particularly in and around the Kobani region – and whether he will not be challenged by Moscow and Washington.

“How much risk is he willing to take? We have evidence that he takes too many risks,” Stein said.

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Bilginsoy reported from Istanbul.

Nation World News Desk
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