After two Turkish police officers were killed and two others injured on Sunday in a missile attack on Azaz in northern Syria launched from the neighboring Tal Rifaat area by Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, all eyes are on Ankara to see whether it will carry out a ground operation in the region.
Families of two children killed in a brutal attack by the PKK’s Syrian offshoot, the YPG, condemned the terrorists, as they continue to grieve for their loss.
Both only 11 years old, Elif Terim and Mazlum Güneş, were just two of the victims killed by the terrorist group’s many strikes on civilian areas during Turkey’s cross-border counterterrorism operation, Operation Peace Spring, in northern Syria.
Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring, the third in a series of cross-border anti-terror operations in northern Syria targeting terrorists affiliated with Daesh and the PKK’s Syrian offshoot the People’s Protection Units (YPG), on Oct. 9 at 4 p.m. The operation aimed to establish a terror-free safe zone for Syrians return in the area east of the Euphrates River controlled by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is dominated by YPG terrorists.
The policemen were killed on Sunday in a missile attack in northern Syria’s Azaz region, which Turkey said was launched by the armed People’s Protection Units (YPG), according to the interior ministry.
Separately, projectiles that landed in two separate areas caused explosions in Turkey’s southern Gaziantep province, across the border from Syria’s Jarablus city, the governor’s office said.
A third landed in Jarablus and was believed launched from a region controlled by the YPG, the US-backed Kurdish fighters that Ankara considers a “terrorist” organisation.
Azaz and Jarablus have been under the control of rebels backed by Turkey since Ankara’s first incursion into Syria in 2016, in an operation that aimed to drive away ISIL fighters and the Syrian-Kurdish YPG members from its border with Syria.
Ankara has launched two other cross-border operations in Syria against the YPG, one of which targeted the Afrin region in 2018.
A car bomb also killed at least four people and wounded six others in Afrin on Monday, according to local sources.
Ankara views the YPG as the Syrian branch of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), who have been waging a deadly fight against the Turkish state that has killed tens of thousands since the 1980s.
But Washington has partnered with the YPG to fight ISIL in Syria, brushing off angry criticism from Turkey. The militia remains a sore point in Erdogan’s uneasy relations with US President Joe Biden.
The conflict in Syria has killed hundreds of thousands of people since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of peaceful demonstrations.
Turkey prepares response
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has said Turkey will “do what is necessary for its security to clear northern Syria from terrorists,” stating that both Russia and United States are responsible for the YPG attacks.
“We will do whatever it takes to clear these terrorists from these regions,” he said on Oct. 13, speaking at a press conference with Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Denis Moncada Colindres.
He was responding to a question about President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent remarks over an attack by the YPG.
“We have no patience left regarding some regions in Syria which have the quality of being the source of attacks on our country,” Erdogan said in a news conference following a cabinet meeting.
“We are determined to eliminate the threats originating from here either with the active forces there or by our own means,” he added. This signals that a Turkish military offensive is about to commence.
In separate agreements with Moscow and Washington in 2019, Turkey halted its offensive in northeast Syria in exchange for the withdrawal of YPG militants 30 km south of its border, but has since repeatedly complained of violations and accused both countries of not keeping promises.
Last month, two Turkish soldiers were killed and three others injured in another attack in Syria’s Idlib de-escalation zone, the latest major opposition stronghold in Syria. Several parts of the region, home to some 4 million civilians, are patrolled by Russian and Turkish troops.
After talks between Russia and Turkey failed to produce a meaningful outcome in September, Turkey deployed more troops and tanks in Idlib to strengthen its presence against Syrian regime attacks and Russian air raids.
Following his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sept. 29, Erdogan said that Turkey was committed to the March 2020 ceasefire with Russia and to “clearing radical elements.”
But he added that Turkey expected its partners to do the same and contribute to the de-escalation.
As part of its commitments to Russia, Turkey pledged to combat militancy in Idlib and eradicate Al-Qaeda-linked militant group Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, while it also committed to reopen M4, a vital link between Aleppo and Latakia. Russia claims that these commitments remain unfulfilled so far.
Increase in tensions with the US
The latest YPG acts add heat to the already intense fire between Turkey and the US amid declining relations between the Erdogan and Biden administrations. Despite its NATO ally Turkey’s legitimate security concerns, the United States continues to provide military support to the YPG.
As several Turkish news websites, including Yeni Şafak, Yeni Akit and Ulusal Kanal, reported, YPG members shared images of patrolling around the city of Hassakeh in northeastern Syria by hanging their flags on Bradley-type armored vehicles donated by the U.S.
In addition, Anadolu Agency (AA) recently reported that the U.S. House of Representatives last month approved a $778 billion 2022 defense budget bill, which envisions providing $177 million in aid to the YPG/PKK organization, in a move that has triggered many discussions.
The U.S., which accepts that the PKK is a terrorist group, has said the training, weapons and ammunition support it provides to the YPG is to support the fight against the Daesh terrorist organization. However, the air defense products provided by the U.S. to the YPG contradict that claim as Daesh does not have an air-defense arsenal, Usta reported.
The issue of U.S. support for the YPG/PKK terrorists has become one of the main disputes between Ankara-Washington. The U.S. primarily partnered with the YPG in northeastern Syria to fight Daesh. Turkey strongly opposed the YPG’s presence in northern Syria and the formation of a terror corridor, which has been a major sticking point in strained Turkey-U.S. relations. Under the pretext of fighting Daesh, the U.S. has provided military training and given truckloads of military support to the YPG, despite its NATO ally’s security concerns.
The US tried to avoid criticism and a further decline of relations as a result of the recent attacks by condemning the cross-border attack from Syria against Turkey. However, Turkey has brushed aside this statement as meaningless, as the US continues to support the YPG.
The US is unlikely to prevent or limit a Turkish military operation into Northern Syria, especially due to the several other issues impeding Turkish-US ties. Another issue addresses the future of Turkey-U.S. defense industry bonds. Turkey’s request for the purchase of 40 new F-16s and modernization kits for its 80 existing warplanes is important in terms of to what extent the two allies will be able to keep this engagement alive in the future. As known, Turkey was kicked off from the F-35 fifth-generation joint fighter program after it had deployed the Russian S-400 air defense systems. Turkey was planning to replace its aging F-16 fleets with the procurement of 100 F-35 fighter jets in the coming 15 years.