When Turkey launched an anti-terror operation in northern Syria in October last year, many disinformation campaigns started on social media, influencing the reporting of Western media outlets. Many former US officials and armchair experts made one common yet unfounded claim — that Turkey's military action would lead to the resurgence of Daesh in the region.
Four months later, a US Defense Department report debunks all those claims, saying the Turkish operation did not result in "any significant ISIS [Daesh] resurgence or increase in its capabilities in northeastern Syria”.
As the cross-border military action was aimed at all terror groups, including the YPG, which is the Syrian wing of the PKK, much of the Western media reporting relied on the propaganda that was disseminated by the YPG.
Through social media campaigns and unsubstantiated news reports in the Western press, the YPG tried to portray Turkey's operation as an "outward invasion" and an attempt to upend the global fight against Daesh.
Many influential former US State Department officials, includings Brett McGurk, were easily swayed by the YPG disinformation campaign. McGurk, who's earned a reputation as the new Lawerance of Arabia, rebuked the Trump administration for making the decision to withdraw US forces from northern Syria and allowing Turkey to take the leading role in global fight against Daesh and other terror groups in Syria. McGurk wrote in the Washington Post that Turkey can't operate "hundreds of miles from its border in hostile territory without substantial US military support" a claim the US Defense Department report proves completely outlandish.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly stated that the cross-border operation was only aimed at terror groups, insisting that there was no way that it would clash with the common goal of eradicating Daesh from the region.
“CJTF-OIR [The Combined Joint Task Force–Operation Inherent Resolve] stated that ISIS [Daesh]-claimed attacks are 'most likely propaganda,' and that CJTF-OIR’s determination that the Turkish incursion did not result in any significant ISIS [Daesh] resurgence is based on ‘known facts,’” the report noted.
For Ankara, the global fight against Daesh ran parallel to its own fight against the PKK-linked YPG in northern Syria. The PKK is recognised as a terrorist organisation by the US, the EU, NATO and Turkey. Against strong Turkish protests, the US has been allied with the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces to fight Daesh since 2015, creating serious friction between the two NATO allies.
Prior to the Turkish operation in northeastern Syria, a hesitant Washington decided to redeploy its forces from border areas into areas about 30-35 kilometres further inland, avoiding confronting Turkish forces. The US also reduced the number of its troops from 1,000 to 500 in the region.
Turkey's military operation in October was swift. Turkish forces went about 20-25 miles deep into northeastern Syria, destroying the ammunition dumps and hideouts of the YPG/SDF.
As the Turkish troops advanced, Ankara faced intense criticism in the Western media outlets, with various "experts" calling it a "godsend invasion" for Daesh, and accusing the Erdogan administration of destabilising the region.
After three months of careful examination, the US army's central command has reported to the US Department of Defense that it saw no “compelling evidence” that the Turkish incursion and US troop redeployment resulted in significant changes to Daesh capabilities.
Contrary to claims that the Turkish operation brought the fight against Daesh to a pause, allowing the terror group to reinvigorate itself, the report’s assessment shows that the Turkish presence with other forces could also contribute to limit Daesh’s capabilities in northern Syria.
“CJTF-OIR reported that ISIS’s [Daesh’s] ability to capitalise on the US troop redeployment and the pause in fighting was limited by the influx of other forces and actors, including Turkey and its Syrian opposition fighters and the Syrian regime and its partner Russian forces, all of whom agree on the necessity of preventing an ISIS [Daesh] resurgence,” the report said.
The report also states that Turkey continues to carry out anti-Daesh operations in areas of northern Syria under its control, and as of November it has conducted "two high-profile operations against ISIS [Daesh], resulting in the capture of bomb-maker Abu Cihad al Din al Nasir Ubeyde and the sister and brother-in-law of now deceased ISIS [Daesh] leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi".
The Turkish-backed opposition forces are proactively pursuing Daesh groups, routinely arresting them, according to the report.