The issues of Jarablus
Five hours before the military operation on Jarablus started last week, I was in Karkamış, the Turkish town right near the Syrian border. I interviewed Syrian opponents at Antakya, Iskenderun, Öncüpınar and I was covering the Öncüpınar-Karkamış border line. In light of my observations, I want to write about the issues this operation will cause Turkey.
What was experienced in Jarablus in the morning of the military operation was a first for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). This organization has always used civilians against military operations. However, the villagers I spoke to Tuesday evening at Karkamış said ISIL evicted everyone living in Jarablus that day.
The reason is that they are changing their tactics. It occurred as a possibility that if Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) formed a belt all the way to El-Bab, then thousands of ISIL militants would be caught between opposition forces and Turkey. For this reason, ISIL first abandoned the 40-km-long region from Öncüpınar to Çobanbey to Syrian opposition.
The groups that were not able to move an inch for months proceeded to Al-Rai in one week. The same happened in Jarablus. Since these ISIL militants did not vaporize, where are they? Well, this is the biggest risk for Turkey. It is not known. Worse, just as al-Nusra, an extension of al-Qaeda, has changed its name, there is information that they also could try the same thing in some places. As a matter of fact, when you visit the Çobanbey border post, 4 kilometers south of Elbeyli, you notice this has already started. In a region vacated of civilians, when no people are left who know who is who, identities could easily be switched.
Just as Iranian intelligence chief Kasım Süleymani had photos taken with Shiite militia in Syria, now Turkish generals are doing the same with Sunnis. But the difference is, while Iran is doing this, there is a buffer zone, Iraq, in between. Also, these militias are in Syria, in the field. I spoke to several representatives of Syrian opposition groups. There are ones who receive support from the Americans; there are others who don’t. They occupy several basement offices in the city of Antakya seeking aid for their militants, with numbers ranging from 1,500 to 5,000. The issue is that were not able to deter ISIL up to now. With their position close to Turkey, their existence is a risk for the country. Why such photographs are being taken and posted, I could not find the answer alongside the border.
When you speak to local villagers, you understand that there is another method Turkey can count on in protecting itself from ISIL. It is the wall. When you leave behind Öncüpınar and proceed to Karkamış, a wall is accompanying you along the border. It has been freshly built. Villagers say that before the wall, there were passages every night but with the wall, the passages have suddenly stopped. It has been reported that while 2,000 warriors were passing from Turkey to Syria every month, this figure has now dropped to 200 to 500. The reason why they have not dropped to zero is that the wall stops at Akçakoyunlu, some 30 km east of Çobanbey. The building of the remaining of this wall is now a priority.
The last issue is that the Jarablus operation, which is not quite certain whether it is targeting the People’s Protection Unites (YPG) or ISIL, is growing the Syria gap between Turkey and the U.S. Contrary to what is being said, the U.S. does not provide air support to Jarablus. It cannot do so even if it wanted to because both in Jarablus and in Al-Rai there are organizations supported by the CIA conducting covert operations according to U.S. Code Title 50, War and National Defense. These organizations cannot be in contact with the Pentagon conducting overt operations in Syria according to U.S. Code: Title 10, Armed Forces. One would either get a TOW missile from the CIA or air support from Pentagon. They do not happen simultaneously.
Well, why then are top U.S. officials including Vice President Joe Biden giving positive messages? Because while the Fethullah Gülen issue is dragging the two countries into a deep crisis, the Americans are trying to prevent it. They are trying to make up for the damage created by their wrong position in the Gülen issue by tolerating Turkey’s position in Syria.
For how long? It will be until the negative consequences of Jarablus emerge. After that, the support of the YPG and the wall will come forth.