Deaths of Turkish soldiers will create opposition to foreign offensives - analyst

The increased death toll suffered by the Turkish military in recent months could lead to greater domestic opposition to Turkey’s military campaigns beyond its borders, said an analyst writing on the news site Rudaw on Sunday.

Since the beginning of this year, Turkey has seen a notable rise in the number of its troops killed in action in Syria, Libya, and Iraqi Kurdistan where its armed forces are deployed, said Paul Iddon.

“Given Turkey’s demonstrated aversion to combat losses, the death toll could lead to greater domestic opposition to Ankara’s increasingly risky forays beyond its own borders,” said Iddon.

Over the course of a few weeks, Turkey lost more than 60 soldiers in Syria, including 34 in a single airstrike on Feb. 27. 

In response, the Turkish military launched Operation Spring Shield against Syrian government forces, inflicting heavy damage. A tenuous ceasefire was signed on March 5 between Turkey and Syria’s ally Russia. 

But the Feb.27 airstrike highlighted the precarious position of Turkish troops in Idlib, said Iddon. “Furthermore, despite Turkey’s support and training for tens-of-thousands of Syrian proxy militiamen, their combat readiness was also found wanting,” he said.

These Syrian proxies lost the strategically-important city of Saraqeb to Syrian government forces. 

Turkey’s military involvement in Libya increased in early 2020. Ankara deployed troops to assist its ally, the Government of National Accord (GNA), in its fight against General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), which has launched a succession of offensives against Tripoli since April 2019.

Although Turkish troops in Libya do not appear to be engaged in direct combat, Turkey still suffered its first casualties in Libya in late February. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan confirmed that Turkey lost “two martyrs in Libya”.

The LNA, meanwhile, claimed its forces had killed 16 Turkish troops. 

If fighting once again flares up, Turkey might have to deploy additional troops in Libya, said Iddon. “Such a development would result in Ankara wading deeper into the Libyan quagmire and putting its troops in further danger,” he said.

Since 2018, the Turkish military has expanded and lengthened its offensives against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the Iraqi Kurdistan region. Operation Claw, which began in late May 2019, has become the Turkish military’s longest continuous anti-PKK campaign in Iraqi Kurdistan to date.

Since Operation Claw began, Turkey has lost at least 16 soldiers. In March, two Turkish soldiers were confirmed killed by PKK mortar fire. 

Iddon said that as Turkey increasingly deploys its own troops on foreign battlefields, it will inevitably incur further losses.

“Consequently, Ankara may find it increasingly difficult to secure the continued support of the Turkish public for these foreign campaigns – mindful of the growing number of flag-draped coffins arriving home,” said Iddon.