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Turkey to launch offensive in Syria to keep YPG Kurds away from its southern border

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Tuesday, May 31st 2022 à 08:40 | Read 299 times

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is considering resuming fighting in Syria to push the YPG Kurds present in the north of the country 30 km from its southern border. The spectre of renewed fighting is growing.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan intends to take his anti-terrorist fight to Syria (photo: Turkish Presidency)
Recep Tayyip Erdogan intends to take his anti-terrorist fight to Syria (photo: Turkish Presidency)
TURKEY / SYRIA. It is a forgotten conflict, overshadowed by the war in Ukraine, that is likely to return to the headlines. The status quo seemed to have settled in Syria since the ceasefire in March 2020 under the auspices of Russia and Turkey. The international community could only acknowledge the victory of Bashar al-Assad, who was re-elected with 95% of the votes for a fourth term in May 2021.

However, the situation is starting to deteriorate again. One of the two foreign belligerents announced that it wanted to resume fighting. Recep Tayyip Erdogan has indeed indicated, during the celebration of the 569th anniversary of the conquest of Istanbul, that he wanted to send his army back to the country for a new military operation against the People's Protection Units (YPG). The presence of this Kurdish militia, described as a terrorist movement by the Turkish authorities, on its borders is the main reason for Turkey's historical involvement in this conflict.

Some 18,000 Turkish soldiers are already on Syrian territory. Their priority targets in this future battle would be Tal Raffat and Kobani, a town with a Kurdish majority, whose control would allow a junction with the other Turkish-held communes of Jarablus and Tal Abyad.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) say they are taking "necessary measures" to oppose "a potential invasion".

Turkey wants a 30 km deep security zone on its border

Turkey wants to keep the Kurds away from its southern border (map: DR)
Turkey wants to keep the Kurds away from its southern border (map: DR)
Faced with a resumption of this dormant conflict, the US has already protested. "We condemn any escalation. We support maintaining the current ceasefire lines," said Ned Price, spokesman for the US State Department. He feared that regional stability would be undermined and that US troops on the ground would be put at risk.

The Turkish president was quick to ignore this warning on Sunday 29 May 2022. "We cannot fight terrorism by waiting for anyone's permission," he said. But he added, firmly, "What will we do if the United States does not do its part in the fight against terrorism? We will do it on our own!"

Turkey wants to set up a thirty-kilometre security zone on its southern border with northern Syria. The same demand as in October 2019 when the first ceasefire was concluded. Russia had guaranteed at the time the total withdrawal of the YPG from this pre-defined zone 30 km deep and 120 km long.

Syrian rebels ready to join Turkish troops in this offensive

"We will continue to fight the terrorists in northern Syria until they are eradicated," Recep Tayyip Erdogan insists. If Ankara, and everything leads to believe it, were to take action, it would be the fourth offensive in this country by its army.

Already in 2016, with the "Euphrates Shield" operation, its soldiers had gone to fight against the YPG, supported by Washington as allies in its fight against the Islamic State. They had returned in 2018 ("Olive Branch") and in 2019 ("Source of Peace"). Since 2020, Turkey had been concentrating its anti-terrorist operations ("Tiger Claw", "Eagle Claw" and in April 2022, "Lock Claw") in Iraq to flush out hideouts of the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, linked to the YPG. "The current operations on Turkey's southern borders are not aimed at the territorial integrity of our neighbours, but are motivated by a concern for national security," insists a statement issued on Thursday 26 May 2022 by the Turkish National Security Council (MGK).

The Syrian rebels of the Syrian National Army (SNA) announced on Sunday 29 May 2022 that they were ready to join Turkish troops against the Kurdish fighters of the YPG. They intend to retake the towns and villages, with a large Arab population, which are now ruled by the latter. The ANS is supported by the Turkish army in this conflict. "Thousands of fighters are ready to participate alongside them," said Abdul Salam Abdul Razak, a Syrian opposition commander.

What is at stake in Finland and Sweden's NATO membership

Turkey is currently negotiating its voice in favour of Finland and Sweden's entry into NATO and is weighing up its problems with the Kurds in Syria and Iraq. A member of the North Atlantic Organisation, Ankara is refusing to support membership for the time being, arguing that it is a double standard.

"The strategic concept should not take into account the current context only," Mevlut Cavusoglu stressed a few days ago. For the Turkish Foreign Minister, "We need a document that determines the Alliance's long-term future (...) Terrorism is the most important asymmetric threat to NATO and the Allied countries. The determination to fight all forms of terrorism must be enshrined in the new Strategic Concept."

The head of Turkish diplomacy denounced in particular the lack of "tangible steps in the fight against terrorism" by these two recent candidates to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. "Their support for the terrorist organisations PKK, YPG, DHKP-C (Revolutionary People's Liberation Front-Party, extreme left-wing Turkey) and FETO (Fethullah (Gülen) Supporters Terrorist Organisation, as the Turkish authorities call the Gülen movement) explains our country's reaction. NATO security and solidarity within NATO are important for all allies. We understand the security concerns of Finland and Sweden, but everyone should understand Turkey's as well," said Mevlut Cavusoglu.


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