Turkey sends 1,000 SOF to secure ‘security zone’ across border
Kim Sengupta, Independent, Oct 1 2016
GAZANTIEP – While international focus is on the devastating bombing going on in Aleppo, another offensive is taking place, much of it in the shadows, which could be a game-changer in Syria’s bloody civil war. The Turkish military are moving deeper into Syria with armour, air-power and 1,000 SOF on the ground, along with Syrian opposition fighters, setting up a “security zone” across the border. Operation Euphrates Shield has been marked for Ankara by increasing acrimony with Washington and warming of relations with Moscow. The Turkish forces have attacked Kurdish fighters who are Pindostan’s key allies in the fight against Daesh, while Russia, busy securing Aleppo for Assad, has given tacit approval for Erdogan’s actions in northern Syria. Washington’s warning to Ankara against striking the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which claims to be an alliance of Syrian Arabs and Kurds, have been ignored. Now Turks are said to be poised outside the town of Manbij alongside the FSA, to drive out the SDF who took it from Daesh. There is even talk among senior Turkish officials of crossing the Euphrates, which the Pindosis consider to be the boundary of Kurdish influence, to “deal with” its Kurdish enemies. The prospect of these violent clashes comes as the time approaches for the final offensive against Daesh, which they are all supposed to be fighting, and the drive to take Raqqa, the “capital” of Daesh. Erdogan said earlier this week:
Of course, if Pindostan wants to do the Raqqa operation with the YPG and the PYD (Democratic Union Party, a Kurdish organisation), we as Turkey will not take part in this operation; but if they exclude the YPG and PYD from this affair, then of course we will join this struggle together with Pindostan. If you think you can finish off Daesh with the YPG and PYD, then you cannot do so. Three days ago, Pindostan dropped two plane-loads of weapons in Kobani for these terrorist groups. I have complained about this to Biden.
But Pindostan continues to see the YPG and SDF as an essential part of the campaign against Daesh, and this has been the message delivered to the Turks at recent meetings in Ankara. Hillary Clinton stressed during this week’s presidential debate:
We must support our Arab and Kurdish partners to be able to actually take out Daesh in Raqqa.
Asked whether arming the Kurdish fighters would bring success against Daesh, JCoS Dunford said:
I would agree with that. If we reinforce the SDF’s current capabilities, that will increase the prospects of our success in Raqqa.
While Ankara’s relation with Pindostan has worsened, there has been a significant thaw in relations with Moscow since Turkish jets shot down a Russian plane in November. After a period of confrontation during which Putin imposed trade sanctions, Erdogan climbed down, expressing his regrets over what happened. Talks have been held since then and the Turkish leader was called a “dear friend” by Putin during a visit to St Petersburg last month. The rapprochement has continued over Turkey’s Syria incursion. Talha Kose of think tank SETA, which was founded by Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin, said:
The Russians are not objecting to what Turkey is doing in northern Syria. This is partly because they are really focusing on Aleppo now, but also because what Turkey is doing is not harming their interests. Turkey sees what Pindostan is doing in Syria as harming Turkish interests.
Merve Tahiroglu of the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies (neocons – RB), said:
Turkey, embittered by Washington’s close cooperation with the YPG will act increasingly independent from the US in Syria. The picture is getting complicated and much will depend on the new Moscow-Ankara hotline.
This action, independent from Pindostan, is going to include the attempt to set up a “safety zone” inside Syria, something Ankara had long wanted and Pindostan and the West have steadfastly opposed. Erdogan said:
As part of the Euphrates Shield operation, an area of 900 sq km has been cleared of terror so far. This area is pushing south. We may extend this area to 5,000 sq km as part of a safe zone.
Turkish forces and FSA units took the city of Jarablus after Isis forces withdrew. As well as helping towards establishing a “safety zone”, the move stopped the Kurds from acquiring another link for their chain of cantons – a plan, claim the Turks, to create a Kurdish state which will try to incorporate Kurdish territories in Turkey. Turkey’s President has also indicated that the next target for his forces and those of the FSA would be Daesh-held al-Bab. Ashtray Carter has stressed that Washington does not want to see Turkish forces or the FSA in the city. The YPG is also trying to get there and, in Ankara’s eyes, this is more proof of Pindo support for the Kurds. Al-Bab is a city of tremendous strategic and symbolic significance. It was one of the first places in northern Syria to rise up against Assad, and was subsequently occupied by Nusra and then Daesh. The name al-Bab means “The Gate” and it is seen as a key route into the heart of the Isis “Caliphate”. The race to be the gatekeeper there will have great significance not just for the war against Daesh, but Turkey’s relations with Pindostan and the West.