Turkey launches Operation Spring Shield

Turkey launches Operation Spring Shield

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar yesterday disclosed the name of the Turkish Armed Forces’ (TSK) fourth operation into the Syrian territories as “Operation Spring Shield.”

The objectives of the first three offensive were to clear the Turkish borders of the terrorists, ISIL through the August 2016 “Operation Euphrates Shield” and the YPG/PKK through Operation

Olive Branch in 2018 and “Operation Peace Spring” in October 2019.

This latest operation is, however, directly targeting the Syrian army and is taking place in the northwestern province of Idlib, marking a first in nearly a decade-old conflict.

The reasons and political objectives of the operation were also outlined by Akar. Protecting Syrians from massive and brutal attacks by the Bashar al-Assad regime and installing a lasting ceasefire in the region are two main objectives according to Akar. But he did not clarify whether the Turkish army will advance towards the south to repel the Syrian army to the southern part of Idlib.

The uncertainty stems from the fact that Akar did not cite the withdrawal of the Syrian army to outside of the demilitarized zone among the objectives of the operation. Turkey had issued the end of February as the deadline for the withdrawal of the Syrian army outside the demilitarized zone in line with the Sochi Agreement in September 2018.

“Our main objectives are a lasting ceasefire and stability. But nobody should have a doubt that we will unwaveringly respond in the most aggressive way to any attack against our troops, observation posts and military deployments in the context of self-defense,” Akar stressed.

He also explained that the Turkish operation was in line with article 51 of the U.N. Charter that secures the states’ right to self-defense while highlighting that Turkey continues to fulfill its responsibilities and duties in line with the Sochi Agreement with Russia.  

Turkey has no intention or desire to face Russia in Syria, he reiterated, calling Moscow to use its influence on Syria to stop its attacks against Turkish troops and civilians in the enclave as well as to withdraw to the borders set by the Sochi deal. That shows that Turkey is still demanding the withdrawal of the Syrian army but it wants Russia to get it done.

However, it’s very much doubtful whether Russia will at one point try to understand Turkey’s concerns and sensitivities concerning Idlib. A phone conversation between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin did not immediately resolve the problem, even though the tension in the field has escalated to a very dangerous level after the killing of 34 Turkish troops by the Syrian army.

The two leaders are expected to meet once again in the coming days but the fact that a breakthrough can only be reached in the case one of the sides makes concessions turns the future talks into nearly a mission impossible. Still, hopes for a negotiated settlement based on mutual compromise are there as this region can no longer handle another conflict, this time between Turkey and Syria.