(UR) Syria — In a move that was swiftly condemned by the Syrian government, Turkish tanks crossed the border into northern Syria on Wednesday, the beginning of a U.S.-led coalition campaign aimed at “clearing the Turkish border of terrorist groups, helping to enhance border security and supporting the territorial integrity of Syria,” according to Turkey’s Anadolu news agency.
Military sources told Anadolu the offensive is in response to a recent security threat:
“The move comes after a series of mortar bombs landed in a residential Turkish area along the Syrian border beginning Tuesday morning, security sources said.”
The operation — “Euphrates Shield” — targeted the northern city of Jarabulus Wednesday, with Turkish tanks pounding 81 targets nearly 300 times and Turkish Air Forces taking out “identified targets” with their F-16 fighter jets.
The government of Syria was quick to respond to the Turkish intrusion. Writes Reuters:
“Syria’s Foreign Ministry condemned Turkey’s military incursion against an Islamic State-held Syrian town near its border, aided by aircraft from a U.S.-led coalition, as a breach of its sovereignty, Syrian state television reported.
“It added that any counter terrorism operations inside its borders had to be conducted in coordination with Damascus and accused Ankara of launching the incursion to replace Islamic State with ‘other terrorist groups’, a reference to rebels.”
After the campaign was underway, Turkish President Erdoğan held a press conference in Ankara in which he reiterated the offensive was about targeting “terror groups which constantly threaten our country.”
Interestingly, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Turkey that very morning — the most senior U.S. official to visit the country since the July coup attempt.
One of Biden’s top aides was quoted as saying that the U.S. “wanted to help Turkey to get Islamic State away from the borders,” and that, with regard to operation Euphrates Shield, “The shelling was hitting Islamic State, not Kurdish forces.”
Which is interesting in itself, considering it’s the Kurds that Turkey has a problem with. Indeed, at Wednesday’s press conference, Erdoğan himself confirmed that Kurdish forces were targets in the campaign. Writes Reuters:
“President Tayyip Erdogan said the operation was targeting both Islamic State and the Kurdish PYD party, whose gains in northern Syria have alarmed Turkey. Ankara views the PYD as an extension of Kurdish militants fighting an insurgency on its own soil, putting it at odds with Washington, which sees the group as an ally in the fight against Islamic State.”
So even as the Turkey and the United States seemingly work together to fight ISIS in northern Syria, the increasing disunity in their agendas is apparent. And in the background of these combined efforts is the fact that Erdoğan claims the CIA had a hand in the attempt at his overthrow in early July.
Complicating the situation further is Turkey’s overtly strengthening ties to Russia.
Plans between Turkey and Russia to build a natural gas pipeline linking the two countries have recently been revived. The TurkStream pipeline — which has long been feared by European nations — would bypass Ukraine, thereby increasing E.U. dependence on Russian oil and gas.
Erdoğan flew to St. Petersburg in early August, in fact, and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two leaders have had some trouble over a recent shoot down of a Russian bomber by Turkish forces.
But, as ABC noted, the “two leaders said they had buried the hatchet at the meeting, which was scheduled after Erdogan wrote a letter in June apologizing to Putin for the downing of the Russian jet.”
Turkey’s entrance into the Syrian conflict — and in support of a U.S.-led coalition force it’s not entirely on the same page with — highlights the fragile nature of war zone boundary lines in Syria. As neutral territory disappears, alliances, perceived and otherwise, will be put to the test.
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