At the beginning of June, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a possible offensive by the Turkish army into the contested border area between Turkey and Syria. Since 2016 Turkey’s Armed Forces are involved in military actions in Syria. In the beginning, most military operations were aimed at ISIL combatants to prevent terrorist strikes on Turkish soil. However, after ISIL was no longer a threat, Turkey began fighting with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria on a limited scale.
The Kurds began their armed struggle back in 2011 when YPG was formed in order to protect the Kurdish minority living in the North-Eastern region of Syria called Rojava. In 2015, the YPG became a part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the official defence force of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. The main reason for hostilities between Turkish and Kurds is the difficult history of the region, the Kurdish desire to create an autonomous or even independent state spanning areas of Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, and also the guerrilla activity of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) operating in Turkey. The YPG itself maintains close political ties with PKK, with many PKK members among its ranks, validating Turkish allegations of the YPG’s support of what Turkey proscribes as a terrorist groups.
In his previous statement, President Erdogan expressed potential operational aims which included taking the towns of Tal Rifaat and Manbij. The potential capture of Tal Rifaat would result in expanding the buffer zone between YPG and Turkish border by 15 kilometers, while the town itself is placed merely 35 kilometers from Aleppo.
As some reports indicate, the Turkish Armed Forces and the aligned Syrian National Army militias continue to gather forces and prepare for further incursion into northern Syrian territory. It is likely that in the upcoming days the situation could change rapidly. Turkish forces have already shelled several YPG positions in the region, while leaders of the Turkey-aligned SNA assigned the military councils with the task of capturing Tal Rifaat. Large number of vehicles and troops have also been seen on the move in the area with General Abdul Salam Hamidi, a commander in the SNA’s Third Corps, saying “the goal is to be on standby for the battle and show our strength”.
At the same time Turkish incursions also increase fears of a potential clash between Turkish and Iranian or even Russian troops present in the area. The operation would further imbalance an already complex and tense region. For Erdogan, however, this seems of little importance, as the preparations for the operation show Ankara’s determination for committing itself to another action aimed at the YPG in Syria.