The Syrian civil war has been raging for over five years, and there are still no winners on sight. On the contrary – new actors are becoming involving into the conflict day by day – this week the Turkish army also joined the fray, by intervening in the Syrian city of Jarablus to support Free Syrian Army militants and fight against Islamic State (ISIS). Jarablus is a vital supply line for Islamic state and one of its last remaining strongholds on the border. Every actor in the Jarablus operation is fighting for its own reasons. Turkey certainly sought to weaken the Islamic State, which has shelled Turkish territory and carried out a series of terrorist attacks — including a suicide bombing in the southern city of Gaziantep just last weekend, which killed 54 people at a wedding.
Obviously, the liberation of the city was not a problematic issue for Turkish military, as according to the Ministry of Defence of Turkey only one militant from FSA has been killed during the “Euphrates Shield” operation. Although, prior to incursion into Syria, Turkey was a part of the international anti-terrorism coalition it’s presence in Syria was limited to fighter jets and air raids. Now Turkish army is the first foreign army, which intervened in Syria.
By Turkish unexpected intervention in Syria, the international anti-terrorist coalition members may finally have a professional ally against the radical Islamist organizations. Undoubtedly, the seizure of Jarablus will shape the war against Islamic State to the West’s advantage. The military campaign in itself can be perceive as a new era of U.S – Turkish cooperation. Even though, Ankara does not clarify its motives entering Syria, it is not secret that the main source of concern of Turkey is the rising influence of the U.S backed Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).
A US-backed alliance between the Kurdish militant groups and some Syrian Arabs called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has been advancing and taking over strategic areas from various armed Islamist groups. It scored a success by driving Islamic State (IS) militants out of the town of Manbij this month. Most probably the liberation of Manbij will not be the last target of Kurds, as simultaneously they are trying to re-capture the town Azaz (near Turkish border), which is supposed to be a part of “buffer zone” in Northern Syria.
The question in this part is what does Ankara want to achieve? Firstly, Turkey aims to degrade the so-called Islamic State in this part of Syria and to make sure that it is no longer able to pose a real threat to its national security. Beyond that. Turkey seeks to strengthen its own influence in this part of Syria. In case of Ankara’s success in this mission, the Syrian opposition forces could gain a wide appeal against the Assad regime. The other reason behind the intervention, is the-already mentioned PYD, which has long been seeking to increase its influence in the western territories of Euphrates river. Therefore, the primary issue that was raised by Prime Minister Binali Yildirim during Joe Biden’s visit to Ankara was regarding the PYD’s and its armed wing YPG’s activities.
Yıldırım made clear that Turkey and the U.S. had come to an agreement that the PYD and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), should return east of the river following the successful operation to push ISIL off Manbij. Yıldırım also called on the U.S. to reassess its support for the YPG to prevent an increase in danger, recalling once again that the PYD and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) were same.
Apparently, Kurdish affiliated SDF militia after Manbij campaign intends to advance towards Jarablus, which means that it may lead to confrontation with Turkish army. The Syrian Kurds have made no secret of their desire to expel Islamic State and government forces from Manbij, Jarablus, and Hasakah in order to link these territories to the northern part of Syria.
Seemingly, the Turkish intervention did not make a huge anxiety either in Moscow or in Washington, which means that president Erdogan has notified his Russian counterpart V. Putin about the upcoming military operation during his official visit to Russia in the beginning of August. In fact, the United States needs a professional ally that can push off the Islamic state, and collaborate with Arabs who do prefer not to completely rely on Kurdish militia.
The Jarablus operation is the first phase of Turkey’s active involvement into Syrian civil war. Turkey will leave Jarablus in FSA’s hands, though it may also keep military contingent there for further ‘unexpected” military operations against Islamic State and PYD. If Ankara can strengthen its positions in Jarablus, the town could serve as a foothold for further military expansion in Syria. Nevertheless, Turkey’s active measures in Syria will raise new tensions with the U.S backed PYD.
To sum up, local public opinion in Turkey is most likely to support the current intervention in the shadow of the ISIS’s recent deadly bomb attacks. The Jarablus operation will shift the long-awaited U.S – Turkey cooperation in northern part of Syria and most probably will strengthen the war against radical Islamist organizations. Simultaneously, PYD’s respective backers – the U.S and Russia will have to work very hard in order to avoid a new escalation in Syria within the involvement of Turkey.
This article originally has been published by Jerusalem Post