Wed 12 Dec 2018

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Thoughtful Steps Mark Turkey’s Movement on Its Borders with Syria

Turkish soldiers on the Syrian borders near the city of Kilis – March 2017 (Reuters)

Turkish soldiers on the Syrian borders near the city of Kilis – March 2017 (Reuters)

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Controlling Afrin opened the door for Turkey to start achieving its goals along its borders with Syria; the fundamentals of its action related first to preserving its national security and annihilating the danger sticking to it for years, represented by the (Kurdish) “People’s Protection Units” affiliated to “Kurdistan Workers’ Party” which it black lists.

The rapid speed at which the “Olive Branch” Operation goals were implemented formed a major trigger for the Turkish actor to consider the rest of the areas along the border line, for the “Free Army” factions and the Turkish forces have managed to control Afrin entirely, in less than two months, with the least costs possible at the economic and moral-civilians related level. This in its turn spurred the imposition of the military option that has been suspended for many years.

In the past a few days, successive threats rose to the surface in Syria, uttered by many Turkish officials, the last of whom was the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who said that Turkey is preparing to control four Syrian areas along its borders, a statement which was accompanied by closing the crossings leading to Manbij and stopping the civil and commercial movement out and into the city.

Correspondingly, the Syrian forefront witnessed a French-Turkish confrontation, against the background of the first side’s statements, which proposed itself as a mediator between Turkey and the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF) and confirmed that it will continue to support the Kurdish forces in Northern Syria to counter the “Islamic State” (ISIS). These statements paved the way for a military and political cold war, the repercussions of which will in one way or another affect Turkey.

 Turkey views its military admittance into Syria as a protection for its national security at the borders; it also says that other countries, on top of which are Russia and America are occupying the countries they are entering and that they must leave these areas at the end of their battles against ISIS.

 

 

 

A “Thoughtful” Action

Erdoğan’s threat is not the first, for it was preceded with a variety of promises that followed the control over Afrin’s center, which stood as an evidence for Turkey’s intentions to reach the Syrian-Iraqi borders and to sanitize its borders from “terrorism”, in addition to stressing the Manbij cause, the main topic of discussion since the first day of the “Olive Branch” operation, on 20th of March.

During its first intervention in Syria, Turkey resorted to slow motion technique, at the political and the military levels both. The first conditions of the Afrin battle prove this, for it started with a “strict” tactic that showed a losing battle and almost drained forces. However, only two weeks later, things went clear showing that the benefits were Turkey’s only, which paid a very little price.

The current Turkish threats are considered the first of their kind, which in the beginning focused on the two cities of Afrin and Manbij only, to include the length of the borders in the meantime, for it is facing America that is supporting the Kurdish forces and France that appeared in the field once more.

The Turkish political analyst Mahmood Osman said that Turkey, to the day, has not yet scored its minimum objectives, whether in terms of the areas that offer it “strategic” security or its share in hegemony over the Syrian space.

He also told Enab Baladi that the Syrian affair is highly sensitive and intricate and there are intersecting relations between international sides, which does not allow an easy movement to any of them. This can also be related to Turkey’s intention to moving on the borders, which is ruled by the agreements of other regional countries.

The “Olive Branch” success and the benefits it achieved with the least humane and material losses gave Turkey a massive push and the urge to continue with the same style.

Osman believes that the Turks are moving according to the “long breath strategy”, which has been applied in the “Euphrates Shield” that results in draining the opponent financially, morally and militarily speaking.

 

After the “Olive Branch”

According to Erdoğan’s last statement, Turkey is getting ready to control al-Hasakeh, Ras al-Ayn, Tell Abyad, Ayn al-Arab (Kobanî), in addition to Manbij which Turkey views as a finalized place, just like Afrin.

This intended movements cannot be seen in a separate manner from the American agreements, led by the former United States Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson during his last visit to Turkey, through which he confirmed Turkey’s right to secure its borders.

What enhanced this were the information which Erdoğan pointed at in his speech on the 23rd of last March, saying that “When I received Tillerson (the former United States Secretary of State), he said that you take the north and we take the south, so I told him: Why do we have to divide the country and take it; the country has its own people and original residents?”

Osman believes that “what lies after the Olive Branch is not like what used to be before it. Turkey would move to liberate the borders in the upcoming days. However, to do this, it will depend on the field of political agreements and non-confrontational attitudes, with the American side in particular.”

He explained that the regional countries, acting in Syria, used to participate on the ground in the previous years through local intermediary. But, today, they are using their direct power, especially Turkey, America and Russia.

If the “Turks’ patience ends”, Osman points that Turkey will particularly impose pressure on Manbij, treated as for granted, while the areas located to the east of the Euphrates would bestow Turkey the sovereignty to make a decisive decision about them.

To the day, the matters cannot be said as to have settled to the Turkish side, especially with the latest changes that the American Administration has been witnessing by assigning a new States Secretary instead of Tillerson, which entirely suspend all the matters discussed in the last visit about Manbij and the areas to the east of the Euphrates.

A French Provocation

Amidst the Turkish confirmations of the continuance of the Military operations against the “Units”, France entered the field as a counter side and warned against any Turkish movement targeting the Kurdish forces in Manbij, announcing that it will be increasing the number of its forces in the areas under “SDF’s” control.

The sharp French attitude was preceded by statements objecting to the “Olive Branch” operation in Afrin, considering it as a form of occupation, through which Turkey aims to join the areas to its territories.

The French President Emmanuel Macron is being criticized in France for his response concerning the Turkish military operation against the “Units”. His opponents view the reaction as giving up on the Kurds, after his first meeting with a delegation of “SDF”. The delegation said that the French president has promised to send additional forces in the frame of the coalition efforts, to present humanitarian aid and to play the role of intermediary between Ankara and the Kurds.

The attitude declared by France was a massive source of “provocation” for Turkey, which considered any French step concerning the military presence in Northern Syria as an occupation and that it is illegal under the international law.

Within this context, “Anadolu” Agency quoted sources, that it did not name, saying that more than 100 members of the French special forces are positioned in five points in Northern Syria. The sources identified the positions where the French forces are gathered since June 2016, where 70 members are located in Talet “Meshtanoor” , the town of “Sarrin”  and the French  “Lafarge” Cement Plant in the town of “Kharab Ishk” in the northern countryside of Aleppo and “Ayn Issa” in rural Raqqa, in addition to 30 soldiers in the city of Raqqa.

Neither France’s intentions in relation to Turkey nor the reasons behind its provocative steps have yet been understood; however, observers believe that the President Macron intends to enter the regional space once more and to indulge France in the area’s diplomatic efforts along with Russia and America.

Potential targets for the Turkish military operations (Enab Baladi)

Potential targets for the Turkish military operations (Enab Baladi)

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