Turkey hits Kandil before June elections
Turkey’s changing security doctrine stipulates more of an offensive approach than defensive, with intensified anti-terror campaigns in neighboring Iraq and Syria, where the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its Syrian offshoot, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), have long been sheltering and posing threats from.
This doctrine began to be implemented in August 2016 with Operation Euphrates Shield, which wiped out the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and YPG terrorists from an area of around 2,000 kilometers between the Mare-Jarabulus line along the Syria-Turkey borderline. The Turkish troops and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) elements continue to control al-Bab and other cities in this pocket in the northwestern Syria province although the operation was finalized in early 2017.
Turkey’s second cross-border operation, “Operation Olive Branch” launched early in 2018, targeted the YPG’s presence in the Afrin province of Syria. The successful completion of these military actions in Syria pushed the United States to finalize two-year long discussions of the YPG’s presence in the Manbij province in northwestern Syria. Turkish and American officials are to commence talks for the implementation of the road map that obliges the withdrawal of the YPG from the said province.
The third theater in Syria where Turkey has deployed troops is the Idlib province in northern Syria. Turkey has established 12 observation spots in the enclave in a bid to monitor ongoing but very fragile ceasefire between the Syrian regime and opposition groups under the Astana Process with the cooperation of Russia and Iran.
The same doctrine is also in place in northern Iraq from where the PKK has long been commanding, controlling and training its terrorists. Due to a military and political vacuum in the region since the early 1990s, northern Iraq has been serving as the main hideout for the terrorists.
Turkey, in the past had carried out a number of cross-border operations against the PKK’s headquarters in the Kandil Mountain but difficulties stemming from mountainous terrain and lack of political support disabled the army to eliminate the terrorist threat.
In line with the changed doctrine, Turkey has established 11 regional bases in the area and the troops will not be pulled back before the anti-terror campaign will be fully completed, as stated by Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli on June 12. The Turkish Air Forces have launched a massive air campaign against the PKK targets in the region while the ground forces are continuing their deployment.
On the political front, he revealed that Turkey proposed joint action against the PKK to Iran, while Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu announced last week that a four-way coordination between Turkey, the United States, and the Iraqi central and regional governments have already been achieved.
Thus far, all these developments are in line with Turkey’s legitimate security concerns and its newly adopted security doctrine that obliges cross-border operations to eliminate threats before it can reach out to the Turkish border.
One other aspect of this offensive is about its timing. Although it would be hard to argue that all these military campaigns are pre-planned and related with the upcoming June 24 elections, it’s also a fact that it comes just on the eve of the polls.
The opposition parties are very careful in not sparking a fresh polemic over the timing of this operation into Kandil but many of them question about it. In return, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan deliberately asked the main opposition figures to explain their views on Turkey’s continued military operations across the border.
The coming days will observe even more intensification of the army’s offensive into northern Iraq. We have yet to see to what extent this military campaign will dominate the election environment and whether it will trigger a political debate between the ruling and opposition parties.