Previously, the battle for Mosul has received mention, and this week’s blog is focused on one aspect of the battle to take the city of Raqqa from ISIS, their de facto capital. Turkey’s incursion into Syria began when Operation ‘Euphrates Shield’ was launched on the 24th July 2016.
The conflict in Syria has been described as complex, although this barely covers what can be described as a regional conflict complex centred on Syria, but impacting on the countries bordering it. In northern Syria, a panoply of regional forces; Turkmen, Chechen and Kurdish, amongst others, have carved out territory during the ongoing Syrian civil war. An example of this is the battle for Kobani between ISIS and the Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG). Turkey has given three reasons for its involvement in Syria: to secure Turkey’s borders, confront ISIS, and to prevent the YPG and PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) from creating an autonomous Kurdish region on Turkey’s border. Turkey’s internal conflict with the separatist PKK has undergone an explosive re-escalation, and while this has causes unique to Turkey, the crisis in Syria was a factor. Initially, Operation Euphrates Shield brought Turkey’s military into conflict with the YPG, although the two US allies have since refrained from major fighting between each other.
In a further development, Russia and Turkey have been cooperating with each other against ISIS, and this has drawn media attention recently when Russian aircraft accidentally bombed Turkish troops. The battle against ISIS north of their Raqqa stronghold has drawn in Kurds, Turkmen and others into a temporary alliance as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in turn working with other alliances in the region. These are backed by British, French, Jordanian and US airpower. Should the fragile alliance between Russia, Turkey and the SDF hold while they combat ISIS, it is unlikely that this will survive in the event that ISIS is defeated. While the militaries focus on their strategies against ISIS, the conflict analysis and resolution community would do well to consider how to maintain the peace in the wake of military victory.
Turkey’s involvement in Syria is unique, as they are the only NATO member to use their army on the ground. While others have provided Special Forces, Turkey has deployed its army in force. In time, the question may be as to how they can be withdrawn.
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Dr Carl Turner,