ANKARA: A further visit by Turkey’s Defense Minister, Hulusi Akar, and senior military officials to troops along the Syrian border, along with plans to hold meetings with commanders, have raised fears of a new Turkish military operation.
The Chief of General Staff, Gen. Yasar Guler, accompanied the high-profile visit, while President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also attended some meetings via telephone.
Turkey has conducted three cross-border operations in Syria against Daesh and the Kurdish YPG militia since 2016.
Navar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, said an imminent operation is unlikely, due to the increasing cost of a military move.
“Logistically speaking, it doesn’t make sense to launch another operation in an area that has this many complexities, including a Russian presence, Daesh cells and Syrian regime operations. Even if they win, it will bear significant costs for troops on the ground because of security problems in northwestern Afrin and northwestern Idlib provinces,” he told Arab News.
However, Saban also said the visit is unlikely to be random.
“It is for coordination on the ground to manage clashes with different actors. But it wouldn’t trigger a new operation in the short term,” he said.
On Friday, US-backed Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces announced a new campaign to fight remnants of Daesh across the border with Iraq following a recent increase in attacks.
Last month, the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) blamed Daesh for exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to “regroup and inflict violence on the population.”
“Intermittent clashes and ground-based strikes between pro-government forces and armed groups continue to be reported in western Aleppo and southern Idlib,” the OHCHR said.
The resumption of violence in Idlib has sparked concern in Ankara about a possible wave of immigration toward the Turkish border, where Turkey has deployed troops.
On Friday, one Turkish soldier was killed and two were wounded following an attack on an armored ambulance in Idlib. The region has seen an increase in attacks since December.
On May 27, a Turkish soldier was killed in an explosion on a highway in Idlib.
Kyle Orton, a UK-based Syria researcher, said that another Turkish operation into Syria remains unlikely for now, as previous cross-border operations already gave the country a military foothold.
“The American presence in Syria has always been the major roadblock to Turkey dismantling the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) statelet, and the Americans want a withdrawal from Syria, quite possibly before the election in November,” he told Arab News.
Orton said that Turkey can get what it wants by maintaining its position, as there are potential political advantages in fighting Daesh in the vacuum left by the US.
“If the Americans are still in Syria in, say, a year, then Ankara might reconsider its view,” he added.