Aidan Quinn – Editor in Chief
In a dramatic escalation of its position, the Turkish Armed Forces have deployed Special Forces into Syria against the Islamic State.
The operation marks the country’s first military intervention in the messy civil-war since it shot down a Russian fighter-bomber in November.
Turkish soldiers and armoured fighting vehicles alongside Tanks and artillery crossed into Syria. The move was in support of a U.S. led offensive against the Islamic State along the border by a combined rebel force of around 1300 fighters.
A new player
On Wednesday, an offensive operation began to clear jihadists out of a key Syrian border town according to the Turkish PM’s office.
The combined offensive included more than 63 targets hit by Turkish Artillery as well as strikes by F-16 fighter jets.
On Tuesday, Islamic State fired a number of mortar rounds from Jarabulus into the Turkish border town of Karkamis, prompting the Army to return fire. The town has since been liberated by Turkish forces who faced little resistance.
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“The Turkish Armed Forces and the International Coalition Air Forces have launched a military operation aimed at clearing the district of Jarablus of the province Aleppo from the terrorist organisation [Islamic State]”
Jarbulus is one of the last Syrian-Turkish border crossings held by the Islamic State who have suffered a string of set-backs. The loss of the crossing will critically effect the flow of supplies and fighters into its territories.
Turkish Security officials told Turkish television that a small contingent of Special Forces travelled into the Syrian territory to secure the area as a staging area for a possible ground operation. What this operation would encompass in terms of objective, forces and disposition remains unknown at this time.
Global politics in a regional war
Turkey’s intervention adds another element of complexity to a war that has dragged on for more than five years. Whilst the Turkish government has been keen to stress that it’s focus is on removing Islamic State as a threat, its secondary objective remains in neutralising the threat of the Kurds gaining too much power and attempting to create a state. The coalition of Kurdish forces is a complex one, stretching across the Euphrates from Eastern Turkey, through Syria and down into Iraq. The group has long been marginalised and now sees its military successes on the ground as a platform for true independence.
“No [Kurdish] corridor. Period. No separate entity on the border. A united Syria” – Vice President Joe Biden in a joint news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.
The Turkish Government has been fighting a long-running war with Kurdish groups such as the PKK who have committed terrorist bombings in pursuit of their goal of independence in the country’s south-east. Complicating the matter further is the fact that the Kurds remain the U.S.’ favoured fighting group on the ground in Syria, and have had the most success in pushing Islamic State out of Iraq and as well. The question now is whether the U.S. will continue its support for the Kurds since Turkey is a key member of NATO with one of the biggest militaries in the Middle East.
The Turkish intervention has also drawn sharp criticism from the Syrian government as well as Russia. President Edrogan has repeatedly stated that any eventual resolution of the war in Syria would see the removal of Syrian President Bashaar al-Assad, a key ally of Russia which has ramped up military support for the regime and committed air and ground forces to the fight in his defence.
What is clear now is that the Islamic State’s days are numbered. It has suffered a string of key losses in Syria and Iraq, and now faces enemies on all sides as local support wanes. When the group is defeated, the real challenge comes when the U.S. coalition must face off with Russia and it’s allies in Syria and Iran over the future of Syria.
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