Turkish army reluctant over government will to intervene in Syria

Turkish army reluctant over government will to intervene in Syria

Turkish army reluctant over government will to intervene in Syria

AFP photo

Turkey’s government wants more active military action to support the Free Syrian Army (FSA) against the regime, Kurdish and jihadist forces in Syrian territory, but the military is reluctant to do so, playing for time as the country heads for a new coalition government, official sources told the Hürriyet Daily News.

According to the HDN sources, who asked not to be named, the “active support” which Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu government has been seeking from the military ranges from long-range artillery fire (not only in retaliatory terms) against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) positions in Syrian territory to air operations and entering Syria with land forces to secure a strip along the Turkish border. 

One source explained the “need” as to “prevent more clashes between the ISIL and the Kurdish forces led by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), prevent the PYD from taking full control over the Turkish-Syrian border and create a safe zone against a new wave of refugees on Syrian territory, no longer in Turkey.” 

Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel has delayed the government directive with justifications of international law and politics and the uncertainty of reactions from the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, as well as from its supporters Russia and Iran, together with the United States.

The government has been conducting dialogue since then to convince the army on its plans.

The contacts with the Americans have provided limited to U.S.-led coalition attacks on ISIL – limited because Turkey has not opened the İncirlik air base in Adana yet, meaning the jets are taking off from Kuwait and Qatar.

In that context, the actions against ISIL and its contacts with the Syrian regime was discussed between Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Middle East and Africa special envoy, Mikhail Bogdanov, on June 24 in Ankara. The sources said Russia has acknowledged that there could be cooperation between al-Assad and ISIL forces (especially after a series of meetings with them on May 28-31 in Haseke near the Turkish border) regarding the recent westward attack by ISIL and agreed to talk about the situation with Damascus. But there is no information showing that Russia would turn a blind eye to Turkey’s active military intervention in Syria. 

The situation in Syria, including the fate of al-Assad, was discussed between Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan in Baku on June 15, but the key meeting in Ankara with the Turkish decision-makers was held three days later on June 18.

According to the HDN sources, Davutoğlu suggested that it could be time for Turkey to intervene in the situation in Syria, especially targeting the town of Jarabulus based on the assessments of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) that ISIL could launch new attacks from there, especially after the PYD’s taking of Tel Abyad from ISIL on June 16.

Özel said he needed a written directive for that. When Davutoğlu could not convince Özel that the earlier motion by the parliament would be enough, he asked his office to produce a new government directive immediately which they did and he signed. 

With the directive in writing, Özel began to list certain consequences of an active Turkish intervention into Syrian territory, whether it would be directed at ISIL, which is a legitimate target for all U.N. members. Özel said ISIL could attack Turkish soldiers there and civilians in Turkey, the Turkish army could come to face to face with the PYD, as well as its Turkey-based sister organization, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), on Syrian soil, while the PKK could resume actions in Turkey following a three-year period of relative silence thanks to the government’s Kurdish peace initiative. 

He also said that since al-Assad forces have been cooperating with ISIL, the Syrian Air Force could attack Turkish targets which would make it necessary for the Turkish military to retaliate. That’s why he said the Syrian government should know that Turkey was entering its territory to fight terrorism and secure refugees. That is how the recent diplomatic efforts started.

But in the meantime, ISIL attacked Kobane on June 25 from Jarabulus, killing dozens, the next day that the Turkish and Russian foreign ministries were talking on the issue.

The developments have apparently made the Davutoğlu government nervous.

The military does not want to get into a major military action on the directives of the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government which lost its parliamentary majority in the June 7 elections. The coalition talks to form a new government with either the Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP) or the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) will start next week and if a new government is formed in weeks’ time, the directive which might lead to a war could be obsolete. It is a fact that if the CHP becomes a coalition partner, which is more likely, that Turkey’s policy on Syria and ISIL could change.

There is also the factor of a reshuffle among military ranks. The office of Özel ends in August and civilian sources speculate that he is playing with time in order not to become the general that takes Turkey into war at a critical time. 

Özel elected for surgery in May, before the elections, when again there were rumors that the government wanted more active military involvement regarding ISIL and PYD forces in Syria.