ANKARA: Turkey has begun laying the groundwork for a new military incursion into northern Syria amid a rise in cross-border attacks by Syrian Kurdish YPG militia.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that a YPG attack in southern Turkey that killed two Turkish police was “the final straw” and Turkey was determined to eliminate the threat.
On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the US and Russia had failed to ensure a YPG withdrawal from the Syrian border area. “In the latest attacks ... both Russia and the US have a responsibility as they did not keep their promises,” Cavusoglu said. “Since they are not keeping their promises, we will do what is necessary for our security.”
Turkey controls swaths of territory in northern Syria, after carrying out three separate cross-border offensives against Daesh and the YPG. Ankara halted an offensive in 2019 in exchange for the withdrawal of YPG militants 30 km south of its border, but has repeatedly complained of violations.
Reired major Nihat Ali Ozcan, a a security analyst at the TEPAV think tank in Ankara, said Cavusoglu and Erdogan were sending direct messages to Russia and the US.
“As part of its commitments to Russia, Turkey committed to reopen M4, a vital link between Aleppo and Latakia. If it establishes security in that area, Russia may be willing to open a gateway to Tal Rifaat to let Turkish troops hit the YPG,” he told Arab News.
However, Ozcan said such a move could undermine US-Turkey relations at a time when both parties were trying to build trust after years-long disagreements over several key issues, including Turkey’s purchase of Russian-made S-400 missiles.
“There is a scheduled meeting between President Erdogan and his Joe Biden in Rome in late October. An operation against the YPG risks canceling this meeting and opening up a new chapter of crisis in bilateral relations,” he said.
Aydin Sezer, an expert on Turkey-Russia relations, said Turkey was uneasy over YPG intrusions into the Operation Peace Spring area, but conditions were “not appropriate for conducting such a large-scale operation.”
He said: “Turkey has nothing strategic to offer the Russian side for getting its approval for any aerial strike. However, these latest statements by Erdogan and Cavusoglu might have been helpful for Moscow to use as a stick against the YPG for them to make peace with Assad,” he told Arab News.
“A small-scale operation to the eastern side of the Operation Peace Spring is possible but any large-scale operation to Tal Rifaat would mean entering into direct war with Assad because the regime troops are mainly deployed in that area.”
Oytun Orhan, coordinator of Syria studies at the ORSAM think tank in Ankara, said an operation was likely although not in the short term.
“Considering the pattern in Turkey’s previous cross-border operations in Syria, the politicians first escalated the rhetoric, gave messages to the domestic and international audiences, then waited for a reaction from their counterparts, then launched the operation sometimes within months when the conditions become mature. So these statements cannot be accepted as merely bluff,” he told Arab News.
“Although it would be a symbolic move from Turkish side to attack Ain Al-Arab, a powerful symbol of Kurdish national identity where the YPG began emerging, Turkey wouldn’t risk attracting international criticism with such a starting point. It will probably start by hitting the YPG points at the eastern side of the Operation Peace Spring area up to Qamishli.”