Following two successful campaigns in Afrin and Jerablus, which saw Syrians returning home, Turkey has a blueprint for its third campaign to eliminate the threat of Daesh and the PKK/YPG.
As Turkey prepares to enter northeastern Syria, it's important to remember that this will be the country's third incursion into Syria.
Ankara’s aim in this cross border incursion will be three-fold: continuing the fight against Daesh remnants; to neutralise the threat from the Syrian branch of the PKK, also known as the YPG; and establish a safe zone for Syrians to return to their country.
The PKK has waged a three-decade terror campaign against the Turkish state, leading to tens of thousands of deaths, and both Turkey and the US have designated the PKK as a terrorist organisation.
Turkey’s first incursion: Operation Euphrates Shield
The Turkish government launched the operation with Syrian opposition forces in August 2017 to liberate the area from Daesh in the region and halt YPG attempts to occupy it and connect the northeastern part of Syria with Afrin.
The seven-month campaign ended in March 2018 saw Daesh and the YPG put up a bitter fight which resulted in scores of Syrian opposition forces and Turkish soldiers dying and thousands of terrorists being killed.
Three years since the operation, however, the liberated areas have changed dramatically under Turkish oversight and with Turkish funds pouring into the war-torn region.
After years under the tyranny of Daesh, the region has seen Syrians slowly return to the region to build their new lives.
Turkish government efforts to rebuild schools, hospitals, children’s playgrounds, the police force and nurseries have created a blueprint of how Ankara intends to return liberated regions to a sense of normality.
Jarablus, one of the main cities in the areas that Turkey took from Daesh, has seen its population swell from 5,000 to more than 200,000. As the threat of war from Daesh and the YPG has been mostly lifted from the region, people have started to open businesses and return to Syria.
More recently Turkey has announced that Gaziantep University, based in the southeastern Turkish city of the same name, will open several faculties in Jarablus for students.
Turkey’s second incursion: Afrin, Operation Olive Branch
In January 2018, Turkey began operations seeking to liberate Afrin, a majority Kurdish area in Syria that had been occupied by the YPG after the Assad regime abandoned the area.
Despite some of their differences, the Assad regime and the YPG, have helped each other at critical moments.
When the Assad regime was bombarding Aleppo, in one of the most brutal episodes of the war, YPG militants helped the Assad regime defeat revolutionary forces that were fighting to bring democracy to Syria and end the authoritarian grip of the Assad family.
The Assad regime repaid the favour when Turkish operations began in Afrin, providing military support to the terrorist organisation.
With Turkey liberating Afrin from the yoke of the YPG it sought to bring a sense of normalcy to the region quickly using its experience in Jarablus.
The two liberated areas have reduced pressure on Turkey to host more than four million refugees with more than 300,000 returning.
Following the development model pioneered in Jarablus, Turkey has recently opened several educational faculties in Afrin linked with Gaziantep University.
In the last few years, more factories in Afrin have opened, and agricultural production has increased. The security environment in the region has dramatically stabilised. However, the YPG, backed by the Assad regime, fears that template of development and has attempted to engage in sporadic terrorist attacks.
The loss of territory for the YPG is an existential issue because its business model relies on racketeering and extortion to maintain its militant operations. The loss of land in northeastern Syria, therefore, could result in its most lucrative revenue streams being lost.