What challenges for Turkish forces in Idlib?

People wave Turkish flags during a demonstration in support of the Turkish Army’s Idlib operation near Reyhanli, Hatay, on the Turkey-Syria border. (AFP)
Updated 14 October 2017
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What challenges for Turkish forces in Idlib?

ANKARA: Following days of reconnaissance activities in Idlib, some 100 Turkish soldiers — including commandoes — set foot in the Syrian province Thursday night with armored vehicles, tanks and artillery as part of Ankara’s attempts to establish a “de-escalation zone” there.
As a first step, the Turkish military will begin establishing observation posts to implement the de-escalation zone, as per the Astana agreement brokered on Sept. 16 between Turkey, Russia and Iran.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday: “Turkey shares a border with Idlib, so we should take our own measures. It is us who are under constant abuse and threat.” Idlib is dominated by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), which rejects the Astana process.
The Turkish military said its mission is to establish, monitor and maintain a cease-fire, deliver humanitarian aid to civilians and help the displaced return home.
The military is set to establish 14 observation posts in Idlib, and will provide security for NGOs to deliver humanitarian aid.
During this open-ended operation, Turkish troops are not expected to launch a ground offensive. They will only support the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in case the Astana deal is violated.
Turkey, Iran and Russia will send 500 observers each to Idlib to monitor the de-escalation agreement.
Turkey’s previous Operation Euphrates Shield in northern Syria targeted Daesh, but this time the target is HTS.
Another aim is to stop the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara considers an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), from gaining access to the Mediterranean and expanding their sphere of influence.
Murat Yesiltas, a Middle East expert at the Ankara-based think tank SETA, said the deployment phase has not experienced any logistical or military problems so far, and the mission seems to be going smoothly.
“The presence and military dominance of HTS in Idlib is the most likely local parameter to challenge the mission,” he told Arab News.
“Especially after the splinter group Ansar Al-Furqan’s announcement that it will fight any ‘invader force,’ there’s considerable risk of a fight in the medium term.”
Yesiltas said since the emergence of a Daesh pocket in southeast Idlib in recent days, there is a risk of the group sabotaging the de-escalation zone and targeting Turkish troops via cells.
Nursin Atesoglu Guney, dean of the faculty of economics, administrative and social sciences at Bahcesehir Cyprus University, told Arab News: “Turkey entered Idlib not as a warring party but as a peacekeeping actor. The aim is to consolidate our presence there and sit at the negotiation table along with opposition groups at the political resolution stage.”
Yesiltas agrees: “Turkey’s exit strategy consists of maintaining the de-escalation zone and thus stability in Idlib first. The elimination of the YPG threat from Afrin via military force should follow if necessary. The last phase would be negotiations with the Assad regime for an ultimate solution to the Syrian conflict.”
Guney said: “The stance of the US, which is active east of the Euphrates River via the YPG, will determine activity on the ground. Turkey’s experience acquired during Euphrates Shield will help it coordinate its military efforts with local realities and diplomatic contacts.”


Syria Kurds urge world to take back foreign militants

Updated 24 March 2019
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Syria Kurds urge world to take back foreign militants

  • The Kurdish administration’s top foreign affairs official Abdel Karim Omar warned that its foreign captives still pose a threat
  • Many of the suspected militants’ countries of origin are reluctant to take them back due to potential security risks

OMAR OIL FIELD, Syria: Syria’s Kurds warned Sunday that the thousands of foreign militants they have detained in their fight against the Daesh group are a time-bomb the international community urgently needs to defuse.
Speaking a day after Kurdish-led forces announced the final demise of the militants’ physical “caliphate,” the Kurdish administration’s top foreign affairs official Abdel Karim Omar warned that its foreign captives still pose a threat.
“There are thousands of fighters, children and women and from 54 countries, not including Iraqis and Syrians, who are a serious burden and danger for us and for the international community,” Omar said.
“Numbers increased massively during the last 20 days of the Baghouz operation,” he said, referring to the village by the Euphrates where diehard militants made a bloody last stand.
The fate of foreign Daesh fighters has become a major issue as the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces closed in on the once-sprawling proto-state the militants declared in 2014.
After a months-long assault by the US-backed SDF to flush out the last Daesh strongholds in the Euphrates Valley, militants and their families gradually gathered in Baghouz as the last rump of the “caliphate” shrank around them.
While some managed to escape, many of the foreigners stayed behind, either surrendering to the SDF or fighting to the death.
According to the SDF, 66,000 people left the last Daesh pocket since January, including 5,000 militants and 24,000 of their relatives.
The assault was paused multiple times as the SDF opened humanitarian corridors for people evacuating the besieged enclave.
The droves of people scrambling out of Baghouz in recent weeks were screened by the SDF and dispatched to camps further north, where most are still held.
The de facto autonomous Kurdish administration is northeastern Syria has warned it does not have capacity to detain so many people, let alone put them on trial.
But many of the suspected militants’ countries of origin are reluctant to take them back due to potential security risks and a likely public backlash.
Some have even withdrawn citizenship from their nationals detained in Syria.
“There has to be coordination between us and the international community to address this danger,” Abdel Karim Omar said.
“There are thousands of children who have been raised according to IS ideology,” he added.
“If these children are not reeducated and reintegrated in their societies of origin, they are potential future terrorists.”