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Threat of Turkish Military Operations on Syria

In March 2019, Turkey launched military operations against the north-eastern area of Syria under the code name ‘OP-Peace Spring’. In this operation, Turkey suffered territorial defeat in the hands of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), supported by the US and the Syrian government. Turkey’s involvement in Syria goes back to 2011 when the Syrian Civil War broke out. Initially, Turkey had a diplomatic conflict with Syria, but it soon became a military conflict. Turkey opposed Syrian President Bashar-al-Assad for dealing with the rioters cum terrorists involved in this Civil War. In July 2011, the Turkish govt extended military support to Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighting against Syria for regime change. In 2012, border skirmishes took place between Turkey and Syria. Finally, in 2016 Turkey intervened in Syria militarily and since then has been actively involved in carrying the military operations in 2018, 2019 and 2020. Since 2016 Turkey has been occupying the territory of Syria in the north-eastern region.

Turkey succeeded partially in these military operations and has managed to keep Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan (PKK) away from the Turkish borders. Today, most of these operations take place in the territories of Iraq and Syria. Drones have effectively contained PKK and destroyed their logistics and maneuverability. Turkey is very much interested in reinforcing these gains. Now PKK is in defensive mode and mainly concentrated in the southern borders of Turkey. But as Turkey Armed Forces (TAF) and PKK move to Syria and Iraq, the Kurdish problem gets highlighted and takes an international flip. But despite Turkey’s colossal deployment of its Armed Forces, more than 1/3rd of the area remains under the SDF’s control. Now turkey wants to launch another military operation in Syria. Turkey wants to retain control over the border area under its illegal control in exchange for extending support to the Assad government, but this is not acceptable to Syria.[i]

Earlier, Turkish military operations against the SDF in the northern area of Syria resulted in the break opening of jails and captives’ places by the ISIS-affiliated groups. They tried to take benefit of regional security vulnerability. They indulged in riots and made many attempts to escape. Now many SDF personnel who were earlier deployed to guard these prisons have been shifted to fight the forces backed by Turkey to avoid any territorial loss. This redeployment of SDF has provided a much-awaited opportunity for ISIS-backed groups to exploit the security situation. In Jan 2022, an uprising in al-Sina in the southern part of the city al-Hasakah took place. This resulted in almost ten days of the fight between SDF personnel and ISIS-affiliated groups.[ii]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has again started sending signals of war against PKK in the northern part of Syria. The alleged aim of Turkey is to create a buffer zone along the Turkey-Syria border.[iii] Thus Turkey planned to capture the two crucial towns, i.e., Tel Rifat and Manbij, situated in the west of the river Euphrates. The Kurdish YPG (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel) is People’s Protection Units, the real backbone of the SDF. Since 2014, the US has reinforced these troops in airstrikes carried out against ISIS. However, Turkey is of the opinion that the YPG is nothing but an extended arm of the PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan), a Kurdistan Workers Party, a group it identifies as a terrorist outfit.[iv]

Syria’s descent into horror. On 15 March 2011, protestors first demonstrated against the Assad family’s rule in this Arab country for four decades. Eventually, this struggle which was initially influenced by the rise of ‘The Arab Spring’, slipped into an armed conflict against the Syrian govt. However, this uprising was suppressed with a heavy hand.

At present, the conflict is being fought between the Syrian Armed Forces (SAF) and various regional and international factions such as Sunni opposition radical groups like  Free Syrian Army (FSA), Salafi Jihadist Organisations- al-Nusra & Tahrir al-Sha, the mixed Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces, and the ISIS. This war reached at its height in 2015.

According to the UN Human Rights Office report published on 28 June 2022, it is estimated that 306,887 civilians died between 1 March 2011 and 31 March 2021 in Syria owing to the ongoing civil war. This is the highest estimate yet of conflict-related civilian deaths in Syria. The conflict-related deaths in this description are not merely numbers but characterize human beings. The effect of each death of these 306,887 civilians would have had a reflective, rumbling impact on the family and society to which they belonged. (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet).[v] These deaths occurred as a result of direct armed conflict.

Though the violence has waned, civilians are now suffering an economic crisis. More than 80% of the population has a scarcity of food items. The people of Syria have been the chief sufferers of international sanctions, including the US Caesar Act. This act is to put pressure on the government to carry out fundamental social and economic reforms. Nevertheless, it has little impact on Assad, but these sanctions have discouraged other countries in Arab including United Arab Emirates (UAE) from calibrating their relations with Syria.

Conclusion: In case another Turkish invasion takes place, this could have dire consequences for regional and international security scenarios. Withdrawal of SDF troops from guarding and security duties where ISIS prisoners are kept could lead to increased acts of terrorism by ISIS and its affiliated groups in Iraq and Syria. This would further strengthen the rank and file of the ISIS organization and pose a security threat worldwide. In the long run, it could impact the SDF-US alliance in Syria, which has successfully countered terrorism.

After 11 years of the unrest that flashed the war, Syria is still caught up in a low-level conflict situation, political instability, and economic turmoil. The 2020 cease-fire has curtailed violence in the Turkey-controlled northwest, while the regime controls most of the rest of the country with help from Russia and Iran. At the same time, Israel has carried out target bombings in Syria said to belong to Iran-linked militias, including Hezbollah. A US air strike targeted an Iraq-based militia in Syria just weeks after the inauguration of President Joe Biden in 2021.

Turkey’s threat has possibly been linked to Turkish domestic politics, including rancorous national dialogue concerning refugees and their supposed relationship to the slumping Turkish economy and fast currency depreciation. Keeping in view June 2023 election and its declining fame amidst the economic crisis, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is pressed to mollify voters.

[i] Turkey’s Military Operations in Syria and Iraq    https://www.swp-berlin.org › Publikationen 30.5.2022. Accesed on 29.6.2022

[ii] Turkish Military Offensive in Syria: Consequences for Counter-Terrorism Operations

Martijn VugteveenJoshua Farrell-Molloy 28 Jun 2022. International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – ICCT

https://icct.nl. Accesed on 29.6.2022

[iii] As Ukraine crisis rages, Erdogan trains his sights on Kurdish .   https://www.france24.com › middle-east › 20220616-as. Accessed on

[iv] Turkish Military Offensive in Syria: Consequences for Counter-Terrorism Operations

Martijn VugteveenJoshua Farrell-Molloy 28 Jun 2022. International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – ICCT

https://icct.nl. Accesed on 29.6.2022

[v] UN Human Rights Office estimates more than … – OHCHR  https://www.ohchr.org › press-releases › 2022/06 › un  Accesed on 29 june 2022.

About the Author
Colonel Balwan Nagial retired from the Indian Army in 2019 after serving for thirty years. Managed administration, security, project mgt throughout his service. He loves writing and contributing in newspapers and magazines in India. He loves Israeli culture.

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