Yaşar Yakış
Oct 19 2019

Has Turkey’s military operation in Syria achieved its first targets?

Has Turkey’s military operation in the northeast of Syria achieved its targets? Turkish authorities announced Operation Peace Spring, launched on Oct. 9, penetrated 30 km into Syrian territory and the military seized control of the M-4 motorway that runs parallel to the border . This allows the Turkish army to interrupt supply of weapons and personnel to the Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG). 

What the international media claims is slightly different, but we have to admit that the first victim in a war is the truth. As usual, Turkish and international media look at this military operation from their own perspectives. The absolute truth must be somewhere in the middle.

What we know so far is that the Turkish army penetrated Syrian territory at four different points, in the eastern and western suburbs of two Syrian towns: Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn. 

At one stage, there were claims that the Turkish army was going to encircle these two towns in the form of a crescent, leaving the southern sides of the circles open to allow those who wanted to escape could do so, thus alleviating civilian casualties when the time comes for house-to-house fighting. Either this assessment was wrong or Turkey changed its strategy, and decided to complete the encirclements and gradually tighten the circle. Both of these strategies have their own merit.

U.S. authorities spread news that, if the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – made of the YPG and its allies - were weakened by the Turkish army’s attacks, they might not be able to hold the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists in their prisons. This question stands out as a major issue of heated debate. Turkish media published footage of empty prison sites in the captured town of Ain Isa. U.S. authorities claimed these prisons were emptied by the Turkey-supported Syrian National Army to put blame on the Kurds.  

The United States has already evacuated two top prisoners to a safe place under U.S. control, namely Alexanda Kotey and Al Shafee al Sheikh who are responsible for beheading several civilians, including the British aid workers Alan Henning and David Haines, and the American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloffanti. 

The claims vary on the exact number of the ISIS terrorists in detention. The United States says their number is 19,000. Turkish authorities give different figures. According to them, the number of those who were involved in violent acts is about 1,500. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said: “We will continue to keep in prisons those who have to be kept there. Those whose citizenship is identified have to be repatriated to their country. We will try to integrate the women and children into the societies they belong to.” 

Despite Erdoğan’s genuine effort to find a reasonable solution to this problem, his statement frightened many across the world who believe ISIS terrorists cannot be easily integrated into society as the jihadists genuinely believe they only did what God wanted them to do. 

Another outcome that may greatly affect the course of events in Syria is the call by the SDF to the Syrian government to take the control of the towns of Manbij and Kobani.

The possibility of such an outcome has been whispered since the first days of Operation Peace Spring. However, a letter sent several weeks ago by the Syrian government to the UN secretary general cast doubt on the feasibility of cooperation between the Syrian government and the YPG, because the letter referred to the YPG as terrorists used as a tool by the United States. 

There was a golden opportunity at that time for cooperation between Turkey and Syria to fight the YPG (or SDF), which they both considered an enemy. There is an already existing framework for cooperation between these two countries: The Adana Agreement of 1998. Russia and Iran have suggested Turkey to use this framework for cooperation, but Turkey had turned a deaf ear to the idea. 

The opportunity seems now to have been missed. The mist over this news is not yet entirely lifted. If this turns out to be true, there may be a sea change in the Syrian crisis to Turkey’s detriment.   

© Ahval English

The views expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.