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Questions Arise About Turkey’s Operation Inside Syria


A Turkish tank is stationed near the Syrian border, in Karkamis, Turkey, Aug. 29, 2016.

A Turkish tank is stationed near the Syrian border, in Karkamis, Turkey, Aug. 29, 2016.

Turkish forces started their cross-border military operation in Syria a week ago without an exit strategy, analysts say, and that may adversely affect U.S. efforts against Islamic State extremists in the region.

Gonul Tol, the Middle East Institute’s program director for Turkey, told VOA that the Turkish military incursion complicates Washington’s fight against Islamic State.

“The Turkish offensive is likely to continue to focus on the YPG and [that military unit of the Syrian opposition] is not likely to back off, either," Tol said. "When Turkish troops pull back will depend on when YPG moves east of the Euphrates [River]. The Turkish military may stay in Syria for a long time.”

US focus on fighting IS

The Pentagon and the White House have declared that Turkey's military movements are "unacceptable" in parts of Syria where Islamic State is not active.

“We have called upon Turkey to stay focused on the fight against IS and not to engage Syrian Democratic Forces,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Monday.

Syria's Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing, the YPG, are part of the Syrian Democratic Forces fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Turkey says both of those groups are terrorists, in contrast to the United AStates, which sees the Democratic Union Party as a reliable ally in the fight against Islamic State extremists.

The PYD is linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has been waging a war against Turkey for more than three decades, seeking greater political and cultural rights for Turkey’s Kurdish population.

Turkish soldiers sit on a tank driving to Syria from the Turkish Syrian border city of Karkamis in the southern region of Gaziantep, Aug. 27, 2016.

Turkish soldiers sit on a tank driving to Syria from the Turkish Syrian border city of Karkamis in the southern region of Gaziantep, Aug. 27, 2016.

Turkey's target IS or Kurds?

Turkey's incursion into Syria is aimed at reducing Kurdish influence along the Turkish-Syrian border, some analysts say. Others defend Turkey's military operation as an action in its national interest, and one that is within the parameters of international law.

“Turkey has been up against IS threats for some time. Rockets from over the border and suicide bombing attacks in Turkey have killed many civilians," said Hasan Selim Ozertem, a security expert with Turkey’s International Strategic Research Organization.

"Turkey acted within the U.N. Charter’s article 51, which is about self-defense, and moved into Jarabulus," Ozertem told VOA's Turkish service. "Also, this operation shows to all that the Turkish military, despite the July 15 coup attempt, is always ready to protect Turkey’s interests.”

Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik said Tuesday that his government's “Euphrates Shield” operation will continue until peace has been established along the country's border with Syria - which some experts see as an open-ended military engagement for the Turks in Syria.

Risk of more mayhem

Alan Makovsky, a former American diplomat who is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, said Syria could become a quagmire for Turkey.

“How long the Turkish military will stay in Syria will depend on Turkey’s operational goals," Makovsky told VOA. "If the incursion creates a new Turkish-Kurdish battlefield, it will add another layer of mayhem to the current chaos convulsing Syria.”

While the timeline of the Turkish forces’ stay inside Syria and its full impact on the U.S. efforts to counter Islamic State along the Syrian-Turkish border remain unanswered, most analysts say that Turkey has its own, separate goals for the cross-border incursion.

“IS was easily infiltrating the [Turkish] border, so the first aim of this operation was to push IS back," Oytun Orhan, who is affiliated with Turkey’s Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies, told VOA. "At the same time, the PKK’s Syrian arm, YPG, has been trying to make moves in the border region. Turkey also wants to prevent further YPG gains.”

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