Turkey to focus on eastern bank of Euphrates in Syria

Manbij has always been a key district in the relations between the US and Turkey. (AFP)
Updated 27 October 2018

Turkey to focus on eastern bank of Euphrates in Syria

  • Erdogan states his priority is to end Kurdish dominance across his southern border

ANKARA: Turkey will not waste time on the northern Syrian city of Manbij, but will focus on the region to the east of the Euphrates River in Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Friday.
Addressing a meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party in Ankara, Erdogan underlined that the priority for Turkey was to clear the region of terrorists and return it to Syrian people.
He reiterated that new terror formations along Turkish borders were unacceptable and were a “red line” for domestic security.
Erdogan criticized the US for providing the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia with weapons and supplies. Ankara considers this group to be the Syrian offshoot of the PKK, which is listed as a terror group by NATO, the US and the EU.
YPG, the lead group in the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, controls almost all the region to the east of the Euphrates River, as well as Manbij district to the west, which was once in the hands of Daesh.
Stressing that Turkey would prefer not to enter into conflict with anyone, Erdogan warned that it was irrational for the US to choose a shady organization over Turkey.
“This is our last warning,” Erdogan also said.
Manbij has always been a key district in the strained relations between the two countries. A roadmap agreed between Turkey and the US in June requires the withdrawal of the YPG from Manbij, while the two countries committed to conduct joint patrols to monitor stability in the region.
Troops from the two NATO allies have recently begun training together before the start of joint patrols. The troops have been instructed on how to communicate, work and operate with each other by using the same military tactics.
According to Dr. Magdalena Kirchner, a senior analyst at Conias Risk Intelligence in Mannheim, Germany, Erdogan is using the current momentum to further reduce the influence of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in the local administration and security forces.
“Given the heavy involvement of Turkey in other areas of northern Syria, another ground operation might be costly and politically risky — especially as it will increase concerns in Europe, where the question of hundreds of Western foreign fighters held in PYD prisons remains unsolved,” she told Arab News.
However, Kirchner, believes the upcoming elections in Turkey might change the country’s approach in Syria.
“It is not impossible that Turkey will escalate militarily in the border region if the increasing tensions between AKP and its nationalist ally the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) induce the government to enhance its nationalist profile ahead of the important local elections in March 2019,” she said.
MHP leader Devlet Bahceli, who previously formed an alliance with Erdogan ahead of the June presidential and parliamentary elections, announced on Tuesday that his party will not seek an alliance with AKP in the elections.
Oytun Orhan, a Syria analyst at the Ankara think-tank ORSAM, said that Erdogan’s statement was a sign that Turkey is losing faith in the implementation of the Manbij roadmap and does not have any expectations from the agreement with the US.
“Erdogan therefore implies that the US is wasting Turkey’s time with this deal. So it is time for Ankara to focus on other parts of Syria where terror groups are consolidating their power east of Euphrates river,” he said.
Experts also noted that Turkey has taken advantage of the current status quo following the Turkish-Russian deal for a demilitarized zone in Idlib, where threats from rebel groups have been reduced for the present.
According to Orhan, Turkey would most likely concentrate on an offensive against Tal Abyad, an Arab-majority town located to the north of Raqqa, near the Turkish border, which is currently under the control of the YPG militia.
As it is strategically located between the major cantons of Kobani and Qamishli, any operation against Tal Abyad would also gain the support of many Arab tribes who took refugee in Turkey during the civil war in Syria.
“The US has no military base in Tal Abyad, so there would be no risk of a direct clash with the American troops. If YPG withdraws from this town following a Turkish offensive, the geographical integrity of Kurdish regions in the north would be seriously disrupted,” Orhan noted.
“Such an operation against terror groups will also bear a psychological meaning, showing that the impunity of the eastern part of Euphrates will end for the regional actors.”


South Sudan says will host peace talks between Sudan and rebels

Updated 37 min 15 sec ago

South Sudan says will host peace talks between Sudan and rebels

  • Hamdok will meet rebel leaders from the Sudanese states of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile

JUBA: Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok will attend peace talks in the South Sudan capital Monday with rebel leaders from several Sudanese states, said official sources in Juba.
“Tomorrow’s meeting is to mark the launching of Sudan’s peace talks,” Ateny Wek Ateny, spokesman for South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, told AFP Sunday.
Hamdok, who was only appointed in August in a deal between the army and the opposition, will meet rebel leaders from the Sudanese states of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Kiir, who just a few weeks ago signed his own peace deal with rebel leader Riek Machar, offered to mediate between Sudan and the rebels back in November 2018.
This new set of talks follow a first round in September when both sides agreed on a road map for the negotiations.
This week’s meeting is intended to tackle the main issues, said Ateny.
Also attending will be Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who last week won the Nobel Peace Prize, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Their presence, said Ateny, was to give the talks more weight.
A senior Sudanese delegation arrived in Juba on Sunday.
The Sudanese delegation will meet Abdulaziz Al-Hilu, leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), which is active in Bule Nile and South Kordofan states. Al-Hilu will lead the rebel delegation.
This new peace initiative comes after the fall of longtime Sudanese autocrat Omar Al-Bashir, who was toppled from power by the Sudanese military in April.
Prime Minister Hamdok has been tasked with leading Sudan back to civilian rule, but he has said he also wants to end the conflicts with the rebels.
Over the years, the rebels’ conflict with Khartoum have killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced millions to flee their homes.