Turkish president’s plan to clear Kurdish forces from Syrian city and set up a safe zone meets with Kurdish defiance.
Turkey has officially ended the “Euphrates Shield” military operation it launched in Syria last August, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Wednesday, but suggested there might be more cross-border campaigns to come.
Turkey sent troops, tanks and warplanes to support Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels, push ISIL fighters away from its border and stop the advance of Kurdish militia fighters.
“Operation Euphrates Shield has been successful and is finished. Any operation following this one will have a different name,” Yildirim said in an interview with broadcaster NTV.
Under Euphrates Shield, Turkey took the border town of Jarablus on the Euphrates river, cleared ISIL fighters from a roughly 100-km stretch of the border, then moved south to Al Bab, an ISIL stronghold where Yildirim said “everything is under control”.
Turkish troops are still stationed in the secured regions and along the border, which amounts to nearly 2,000 sq km of Syrian territory. The number of Turkish troops involved in Euphrates Shield has not been disclosed.
One aim was to stop the Kurdish YPG militia from crossing the Euphrates westwards and linking up three mainly Kurdish cantons it holds in northern Syria.
Turkey fears the Syrian Kurds carving out a self-governing territory analogous to Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region will embolden Turkey’s own large Kurdish minority to try to forge a similar territory inside its borders.
It views the YPG as the Syrian extension of the Kurdish PKK group, which has fought an insurgency in Turkey’s southeast since 1984 for greater autonomy and is considered a “terrorist” group by both the United States and European Union.
With the second largest army in NATO, Turkey is seeking a role for its military in a planned offensive on Raqqa, ISIL’s self-proclaimed capital in Syria, but the US is veering towards enlisting the YPG as its main partner in the fight.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey wants to work with its allies to capture the ISIL stronghold, but will only do so barring the involvement of YPG.