Turkey debates over cross-border operation to Syria

Turkish civilian and military leaders debate over cross-border military operation in northern Syria as border region has increasingly become scene of clashes between ISIS and YPG

Photo by: AA
Photo by: AA

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Turkish media has reported that Turkish civilian and military leaders are debating about the option of a cross-border operation into northern Syria to create a buffer zone, as the Syrian border increasingly becomes a scene for clashes between ISIS and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).  

The YPG, an armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) which is considered to be the Syrian affiliate of the outlawed PKK, captured the northern Syrian district of Tal Abyad from the ISIS on June 15.

Tal Abyad is located between the Kobane and Jazira cantons and is strategically important because it commands the major trade and smuggling routes to Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS.

After taking control of Tal Abyad, the PYD is now able to join both cantons.

In November 2013, the PYD announced three autonomous areas - Afrin, Kobane and Jazira (from the west to the east) - following the withdrawal of Syrian regime forces in July 2012 during the course of the Syrian civil war.

However, ISIS hit back at the YPG, attacking Kobane near the Turkish border with car bombs on June 25, thus restarting the battle for the town which had originally been besieged by ISIS in September 2014 for four consecutive months, resulting in thousands of casualties.

Eventually, ISIS was pushed back in late January by the YPG with help of US-led coalition forces and reinforcements from Peshmerga forces from the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq, as well as fighters from the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Following the recent ISIS attacks, YPG drove out ISIS once again from Kobane and took control of the town, the London-based Syrian Human Rights Watch Organisation reported on Saturday.

YPG forces had been advancing towards Raqqa before the group’s attack against Kobane.

Now it seems ISIS has a new target in northwestern Syria -an area located between Mare and Azez which is controlled by the FSA - after the group lost Tal Abyad to the YPG. ISIS is already controlling a zone from Jarablus to Mare along the Turkish border, which is also laid out between the two Kurdish “cantons” Kobane and Afrin.

The Turkish government has been alarmed by ISIS’ move toward the Azez-Mare line because it will further threaten Turkish border security, the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News reported. If ISIS captures the area, it will able to take control of the Oncupinar border crossing to Turkey, and could get closer to Cilvegozu, another border crossing.

The culmination effect of capturing the crossings could cause a new wave of refugees from Syria to Turkey, a Turkish official told the newspaper.

Turkey already hosts more than 1.7 million Syrian refugees who escaped the violence in their country in large numbers after the escalation of the Syrian Civil War.

Turkey’s other concern is the enlargement of the northern Kurdish enclaves under the control of the Kurdish group PYD along its border with Syria.

Threatened by the ISIS presence on Azez-Mare line the FSA could ask help from the YPG in order to protect its own region which may make the Kurdish group capable of extending its reach to Afrin, another Kurdish “canton” declared by the PYD in the very west.

Effectively, the PYD might take full control of the Turkish-Syrian border and arouse more suspicions in Turkey that a Kurdish state is at its gates.

A Turkish official speaking to Hurriyet stated that there is a “need” to “prevent the PYD from taking full control over the Turkish-Syrian border.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared on Friday that Turkey will never allow the establishment of a state in Syria’s northern part, or south of Turkey which has a large Kurdish population, no matter what it costs for the country.

The Turkish government gave a directive to the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) to take necessary measures along the 110-kilometre border between Jarablus and Azez after Erdogan held several security meetings on Syria in his presidential palace, the Turkish media outlets reported.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has been seeking  “active support” from the TSK which includes “long-range artillery fire (not only in retaliatory terms) against the ISIS positions in Syrian territory,” “air operations,” “entering Syria with land forces,” and securing “a strip along the Turkish border,” according to the newspaper.  

However, the Turkish military has resisted the governmental directive and when insisted by Davutoglu, the Chief of General Staff Necdet Ozel asked for a written directive, Hurriyet reported.

Davutoglu replied to Ozel saying that the Turkish parliament already passed a motion, which has provided a year-long mandate authorising the Turkish government to undertake cross-border operations in Iraq and Syria.

The top general insisted on getting a new directive under the light of new conditions and Davutoglu conveyed the new directive which is based on the previous mandate, the newspaper stated. However, Ozel did apparently not put it into effect.

In October 2014, the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) proposed a motion in parliament with the aim of fighting against militant groups including the PKK and ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

The mandate cited the reasons for a cross-border operation as “terror against Turkey, all kinds of security risks, mass migration, and other possible risks, and developments emerging during and after a crisis.”

The mandate was supported by the AK Party and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) but opposed by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

The newspaper also reported that, “The military does not want to get into a major military action on the directives of the AK Party government which lost its parliamentary majority in the June 7 elections,” and the coalition talks for a new government has officially not started yet.

In addition, Ozel is due to leave his office in early August which may mean “he is playing with time in order not to become the general that takes Turkey into war at a critical time.”

A possible coalition partner of Davutoglu, MHP leader Devlet Bahceli, has previously called for a cross-border operation in order to protect Turkmens in Syria and Iraq.  

He also described the “Kurdish corridor” formed by the PYD in northern Syria as a “chemical bomb” thrown at Turkey, while saying that Turkey should use its legal rights to set up a buffer zone to guard against the risks that threaten its territorial integrity.

TRTWorld and agencies