Turkey seeks to cut PKK’s Syria-Iraq link before hitting east of Syria

Turkey seeks to cut PKK’s Syria-Iraq link before hitting east of Syria

Amid signs of an impending operation against the YPG, the Syrian offshoot of the PKK, at certain points on the eastern side of Turkish-Syrian border, Turkey conducted a major aerial strike with 20 aircraft against multiple PKK positions in Sinjar and Mount Karacak regions in northern Iraq late Dec. 13. 

The PKK has long been seeking settling in the Sinjar region as its second headquarters due to its strategic location linking Iraq to Syria and particularly after the Turkish army’s major continued offensives on Mount Qandil, the terrorists’ main hotbed since the 1980s.

Turkish sources informed that the objective of this attack was to cut the logistic lines of the PKK/YPG from northern Iraq to northern Syria and, therefore, described it as preliminary to the Turkish army’s near operation against the YPG’s presence in the eastern side of the Euphrates River.

In line with a recently adopted pre-emptive doctrine that stipulates the elimination of terrorists before they pose threats on its national security, Turkey had already held two major cross-border operations into Syria.

The Euphrates Shield Operation, which started in August 2016 and ended in February 2017, had cracked down on ISIL terrorists that have been controlling the borderline between Azaz and Jarablus. It also targeted YPG elements in the region that had been in efforts to link the Kobane canton with the one in Afrin.

Operation Olive Branch, which kicked off in January this year and terminated in April, cleared the Afrin region of the YPG terrorists. These operations were smoothly conducted because there were no Russian, American or Syrian contingents in these areas.

The next phase of Turkish operations, however, will take place in northeastern Syria where the U.S. — and in some places French — troops accompany the YPG. There is no clarity yet from where the Turkish army will begin its operation, although many analysts suggest that Tal Abyad will be the first target and Kobane will follow.

It should be noted that two specific developments pushed Turkey to act more swiftly and efficiently: The first one was the U.S. decision to establish observation posts along the Turkish-Syrian border. The U.S. decision to create a 30,000-strong security force mainly from the YPG troops has just added fuel to the Turkish concerns of a terrorist-run autonomous zone just across its southern border.

In this frame, the Syrian city of Manbij is also of importance. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in a speech earlier this week, underlined that Turkey’s target will never be the U.S. military in the region, while yesterday stressed that Manbij will also be among the Turkish army’s target if the YPG will not withdraw its terrorists from the region as an ongoing Turkish-American bilateral deal seeks.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, in an interview with the CNNTürk last month, complained about the U.S. delaying tactics in the implementation of the Manbij deal and set the end of this year as the deadline for the YPG’s withdrawal from the city.

Turkey believes around 5,000 YPG elements shelter inside and in the outskirts of the city. It is also of the opinion that the U.S. will once again ignore the deadline for Manbij as keeping the control of this area is particularly important for the security of American and French troops just across the other side of the Euphrates River.

While all these happen in the field, Çavuşoğlu and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as well as the top commanders of both sides, Yaşar Güler and Joseph Dunford, exchanged phone calls late Dec. 13, showing that communication lines between Ankara and Washington D.C. remain to open.

The main message Turkey conveys to the U.S. is that it will continue its unilateral acts in northern Syria as the Manbij problem prolongs and the U.S. drags its feet for a genuine cooperation with its long-time NATO ally. The coming weeks, therefore, will be very significant in regards to the future of Turkey-U.S. ties in the light of developments in the northern Syrian theater.

Syrian War, Turkey, United States