SOHR: Erdogan threatens new military campaign in Syria
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has raised the specter of a new Turkish military campaign against Kurdish forces in northern Syria after the killing of two Turkish special police forces in a rocket attack on a Turkish convoy in the region.
“We are out of patience with certain areas in Syria that have been the source of terrorist attacks on our country. We are determined to eliminate the threats coming from those areas,” Erdogan said on Oct. 11, referring to Kurdish-owned Tell Rifaat, which is south of Marea, where the attack took place the day before.
State-run news agency Anatolia 11 villages named around Tell Rifaat, where, it said, “the terrorists” had deployed heavy weapons such as multiple rocket launchers and TOW, Katyusha, and Grad missiles and used them to “often attack Azaz, al-Bab, Marea, and Afrin “.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu accused that Russia and the United States were also responsible for the attacks and vowed that Turkey “will do whatever it takes to purge the terrorists”.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the attack on the Turkish convoy was carried out by the Liberation Forces of Afrin, and the Turkish army responded by firing artillery shells and rockets at villages where Kurdish troops were stationed.
Tell Rifaat is a corridor between several front lines. The city is located 21 kilometers south of the Turkish border province of Kilis, 22 kilometers east of Afrin and 27 kilometers north of Aleppo.
Turkey attempted to negotiate the area — first with the United States and then with Russia — as part of its Peace Spring Operation in northeast Syria in October 2019. A Turkish-Russian deal reached Sochi that month, limited Turkey’s intervention to a border strip between Tell Abyad and Ras al-Ain, but included a stipulation that “all YPG (Kurdish People’s Defense Units) elements and their weapons will be removed from Manbij and Tell Rifaat.”
In what has since become a pattern, Ankara would bring up Tell Rifaat and Manbij whenever Moscow reminds Ankara of its commitment under a separate deal to eliminate terrorist groups in Idlib and reopen the M4 and M5 highways. Meanwhile, Russia has authorized the deployment of Syrian government forces at Tell Rifaat and Manbij, in addition to Russian military police.
In addition to the complex balance of power on the ground, an important question here is whether Erdogan and Putin reached any agreement on the issue at their September 29 meeting in Sochi, which ended without a public statement. What was Erdogan hoping for by threatening a military operation without a deal with Putin?
Leading Syrian daily al-Watan sees renewed Russian operations in Idlib as an indication that Putin and Erdogan unsolvable their differences in Sochi. Syrian Foreign Minister’s call on Turkey to withdraw from Syria come across as another sign that Damascus believes the Putin-Erdogan meeting ended without compromise. Turkey’s branch of a new military outpost in the Jabal al-Zawiya area of southern Idlib also points to ongoing disagreements, as well as the intensification of Russian airstrikes in the province.
Erdogan may be trying to gain room to maneuver and negotiate. Most Turkish analysts believe that Erdogan can hardly order a large-scale military operation and risk a major escalation without getting guarantees from Russia to use Syrian airspace. reports that five Turkish commanders Those responsible for Syria-related missions that went into early retirement last month have sparked speculation about mounting dissatisfaction in the military over operations where Turkish forces lack adequate protection.
For others, the prospect of another operation in Syria is hard to dismiss because of Erdogan’s growing political and economic problems at home, which could push him into another military adventure to distract the public and fuel nationalist sentiment.
The perception that Ankara is setting the stage for a military campaign was also fueled when five mortar rounds fired from Syria by unknown assailants landed in the Turkish border town of Karkamis, with no casualties. The incident that came to mind an audio recording leaked in 2014, in which the Turkish intelligence chief reportedly described how he could launch a missile attack on Turkey from Syria as a pretext for war.
Erdogan’s outburst is also in response to US President Joe Biden, who last week accused Turkey’s actions in Syria. threatened American National Security and Interests. By stating that Turkey is under attack, Erdogan is trying to increase pressure on Washington to end support for Syrian Kurds as he prepares to meet Biden on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Rome later this year. month.
In short, the Tell Rifaat map seems to be a tool for Erdogan to maintain the status quo in Idlib. Still, such maneuvering cannot fend off the Idlib-related pressures for good. Russia has shown no willingness to exchange Tell Rifaat and Manbij for Idlib and is unlikely to approve another Turkish offensive. From Damascus’ perspective, the issue is highly critical due to the following considerations:
- The seizure of Tell Rifaat by Turkish troops could once again make Aleppo vulnerable to attack.
- The connection of troops in the Turkish-controlled Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch Pockets to the Tell Rifaat corridor could expand the anti-government front.
- Turkey could also seize Manbij, which amounts to Turkish control of the entire region west of the Euphrates in northern Syria.
- Turkish control of Tell Rifaat could jeopardize Shia settlements’ access to Aleppo, meaning Hezbollah and other Iran-backed Shia groups are likely to oppose such a move.
- With Tell Rifaat under Turkish control, multiple strategic gains of the Syrian government could be at risk, and removing Turkish troops from the region could become even more difficult.
In another scenario, Turkey could be given the go-ahead for a limited operation at Tell Rifaat that would not affect ground control in exchange for its withdrawal from the M-4 route in Idlib. Given the importance Damascus and its allies place on Tell Rifaat, any step beyond that would likely require a major move from Erdogan that would significantly change the situation on the ground.