As a country under threat and constant attack from multiple terrorist organizations, Turkey decided to take a more pro-active measure to fight these organizations on their own turf. Last week, one of the most significant developments was Turkey’s deployment of tanks and Special Forces units in several Syrian towns, including Jarablus. The operation took place in coordination with the international coalition against DAESH, which provided the air cover for the Turkish units. More significantly, Free Syrian Army (FSA) units were effective in liberating Jarablus and achieving this first step in military operations in Syria. These forces acquired control of Jarablus, one of the most significant border crossings in northern Syria and the last controlled by DAESH.
Turkey’s latest operations in northern Syria will turn a new page in the fight against terrorism in the Middle East
Of course, the Turkish government aims to achieve several major goals as a result of these operations. One of the most important is to clean its border areas of DAESH. Turkish security forces increased operations against DAESH in Turkey and security measures at airports and main border crossings. However, the difficulty in securing the border has been the biggest challenge. Various measures to secure borders played an important role in stopping the passage of foreign fighters. But in the case of Jarablus, despite all the precautions about border security, DAESH continues to be a threat to the national security of Turkey. The last option was to launch a major offensive, and Turkey backed Free Syrian Army units to achieve this. The defeat and withdrawal of DAESH in Jarablus is important for border security, and it is another step in Turkey’s fight against DAESH.A second goal of this major operation is to deter the Democratic Union Party (PYD) forces from moving west of the Euphrates and engaging in activities that generate major resentment in some towns, such as Tal Abyad. Since the beginning of the conflict in northern Syria, the Turkish government has constantly asked the U.S. not to help a military group affiliated with the PKK, which is recognized as a terrorist organization by both the U.S. and the EU. However, by drawing an artificial distinction between the two, the U.S. disappointed Turkey and continued providing military training and equipment to the People’s Protection Units (YPG). More dramatically, this assistance did not stop after the termination of the ceasefire by the PKK. While PKK was exploding car bombs in the center of Turkish cities, its Syrian wing, whose main human resource comes from the PKK, was supported by Turkey’s NATO ally. As a result of this support, the YPG became increasingly emboldened and started to more openly challenge Turkey’s red line. This new operation has mainly thwarted the YPG’s dream. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s warning and the threat to stop any military assistance was a major step forward. However, it is not clear how the YPG, which is totally mobilized right now, will react to this warning.
A third major point about this operation concerns the role of the Free Syrian Army in Syria. For a long period of time, the YPG was the only group that could successfully fight DAESH on the ground; thus, this group was supported by the U.S. However, the FSA demonstrated that it could achieve similar goals when there is air cover and enough military assistance, providing a major opportunity for the Free Syrian Army, which for a long period did not receive as much support as the YPG received. Their performance and position after this operation will be important for the future of Syria.
The first statements after the beginning of the operations demonstrated that the length of this operation would be determined by conditions on the ground. In particular, the depth of the incursion will be important in the coming days. But the operations demonstrated that the fight against terrorism in Turkey has taken a new turn. At this point, it is vital that the international community fully supports, through intelligence sharing and police action, this joint effort to fight terrorism.
This article was first published by Daily Sabah on August 26, 2016.