Turkey corners Kurds along the border with Syria
Developments are taking place along Turkey’s borders that will likely have significant implications. A few days after the replacement of army, navy and air force commanders, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated warnings of possible military action against Kurdish forces in northern Syria that operate under the banner of the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
“We are determined to push deeper the dagger we drove into the heart of the terrorist formation’s project in Syria with new advances,” he said. The dagger refers to Operation Euphrates Shield, which Turkey launched in August 2016 and ended in March. Many speculate that Syria will be the initial focus of the new commanders, and that the countdown has already started for a new operation named Euphrates Sword.
Also, this week Prime Minister Binali Yildirim chaired a security meeting in which Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar and intelligence chief Hakan Fidan also attended, among others. No statement was made afterward, but there was much speculation that the focus was on possible plans regarding northern Syria.
As yet, there has been no official statement on a possible military offensive against the YPG in the town of Afrin in northwest Syria. But media outlets circulated reports that Ankara is preparing for another operation against Daesh and the YPG in Syria. Whether this happens or not, Turkey once again said it would be ready to respond to any hostile move from across the border.
Recent military developments point to preparations in this regard. The military has recently built up its presence near the southern border and in the northern Syrian town of Azaz, which served as a base during Operation Euphrates Shield. In June, Turkey’s defense minister said 690 km out of a planned 828-km wall had been completed along the frontier with Syria, and border security measures would be raised to the highest level once construction is complete.
Ankara’s strategy regarding the years-long Syrian war and subsequent regional threats has reached a new phase. Turkey is shifting to tight border controls and cornering the Kurds and Daesh via border walls.
While Turkey is trying to minimize threats from the Syrian border, it also wants to do so from the Iranian and Iraqi borders. Ankara has begun building a security wall along part of its border with Iran to prevent Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants from moving easily between the two countries. Turkey is mired in a bloody war with the PKK domestically, and has taken significant steps to neutralize the terrorist group within its borders.
But in response, the PKK is constantly searching for new ways to continue its attacks. Turkey’s army has significantly reduced PKK infiltration from the south. But the group also has camps along the Iranian-Turkish border, and carries out attacks in Turkey then crosses back into Iran. So a wall between two countries will deal a serious blow to the PKK.
Ankara’s strategy regarding the years-long Syrian war and subsequent regional threats has reached a new phase. Turkey is shifting to tight border controls and cornering the Kurds and Daesh via border walls. It would not have faced such risks had it taken such steps earlier.
For the time being, it seems unlikely that Turkey will launch another operation in Syria against the YPG, given US and Russian support for the group despite Ankara’s objections. Instead, Turkey will likely focus on building a security zone along its border to corner terrorist groups such as the PKK and Daesh.
• Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes mainly in issues regarding Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. She can be reached on Twitter @SinemCngz