Turkey’s presence in northern Syria – Kashmir Reader

Turkey has retained a military presence in northern Syria, having launched its first border operation in 2016. It was in August 2016 when Turkey first launched Operation Euphrates Shield to combat Islamic State near the Turkish border and prevent the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from advancing further west.
Turkey completed the Euphrates Shield after capturing the city of Al-Bab from the Islamic State in March 2017. Turkish allied militia and the Turkish military control these areas. Turkey has launched a total of four of its military operations since then. All of its major land operations had to be carefully deconflicted with Moscow. The latest, in 2019, also required coordination with a chaotic Trump White House. While Trump initially gave the go-ahead, he later changed his tune and threatened Turkey with heavy sanctions. Such discord on the US front has made Turkish-Russian coordination even more essential for Ankara.
Ankara has even invested in many infrastructure projects in the Euphrates Shield area. The Turkish lira is, in fact, already a currency in northern Syria. At the same time, he supports several extremist anti-government factions to tear Syria to pieces, reflecting a new Ottoman hegemony. In 2017, as part of the Astana agreement with Russia and Iran, Turkey began to establish its military presence in the Syrian province of Idlib via the establishment of twelve observation posts manned by the Turkish army. The objectives of the deployment were to prevent clashes between Assad regime forces and armed opposition groups that control Idlib, the most powerful being the Hayat Tharir al-Sham.
However, Turkey’s subsequent incursions into northern Syria have been mostly controversial. In early 2018, it occupied Afrin, initially controlled by YPG. Then, in October 2019, Turkey invaded much of northeastern Syria, previously controlled by the SDF. This has resulted in the displacement of thousands of people, helping his Syrian proxies to loot civilian homes and businesses. It was also the Turkish government that settled two hundred thousand Arab refugees from Ghouta, in houses and areas formerly owned by Kurds.
Kyle Orton, an independent Middle East analyst, noted the situation and raised an important point: “Refusing, for political and economic reasons, to use its own troops in significant numbers, Turkey is working through former rebel groups that no longer have any causes beyond Turkish pay”. cheque, which notably reduces their incentives to behave well towards the population”. This has created a high degree of anarchy among these rebels, which creates a scenario where many civilians are killed in the crossfire.
Turkey’s occupation of northern Syria is assessed very differently by different groups in the region. For the Kurds, Turkey’s incursions and rule have been a disaster. The expulsion of Kurds from places like Afrin and Ras al Ayn, and the settling of Arab refugees in houses where Kurds once lived is nothing but ethnic cleansing. For the Syrian Turkmens, however, the Syrian military presence seems like a boon. As for many Sunni Arab Syrians, they see Turkey’s presence in the region as a lesser evil to the return of the Assad regime to these regions. This is the case for several provinces in the north of Aleppo and Idlib.
Domestically, Ankara used the Syrian conflict as a pretext to also suppress the rights of Kurds living in Turkey and limited their parliamentary representation to secure historic constitutional reform in 2017.
Many rebel militias have now joined the Turkish-created Syrian National Army. It reflects their expression of loyalty to Turkey, to overthrow the government in Damascus and one day take control of Syria.
According to Nicolas Heras, director of government relations at the Institute for the Study of War, Turkey has “laid the foundations for a long-term presence in northern Syria similar to its presence in Cyprus”. Idlib appears to be the first territory the world should probably expect to be incorporated as if it were de facto part of Turkey. This will pose a threat to the long-term stability of the region.
Haras went further in an interview with The New Arab: “Overall, the Turkish-controlled areas of northern Syria are a patchwork of regions ranging from de facto tightly managed extensions of Turkish provinces, to areas of chaos ruled by predatory Syrian rebel warbands, to safe haven from al-Qaeda.
In terms of foreign policy, Turkey’s military operations in Syria have resulted in increasingly strained relations with the United States. Washington’s support for the Syrian Kurds has further alienated Ankara. At the same time, Ankara’s involvement in Syria has also given Turkey new leverage over the EU when it comes to managing refugee flows.
Turkey’s involvement in Syria has also given it new tools to pursue a more aggressive and nationalist foreign policy. It also means that ISIS does not pose an existential threat to Turkey like the PKK does. Ankara has always welcomed the jihadist infiltration in Syria by widely opening its borders. After all, these jihadists were the most effective fighters against Turkey’s main enemies in Syria: the Assad regime and secular Kurdish nationalists.

—The writer is the author of seven books and the publisher of Globe Upfront. [email protected]





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