Turkey’s ongoing military endeavor in Syria dubbed as Euphrates Shield Operation has been successfully completed, the country’s National Security Council (MGK) said on Wednesday, declaring the end of the military campaign there.
“It was noted that the Operation ‘Euphrates Shield’ which started with the goal of ensuring national security, preventing threat from Daesh [Islamic State], providing the return of Syrian refugees to their homes has successfully completed,” the MGK said in a statement after the meeting.
Turkey’s plunge into northern Syria took place late August last year to clear its border of ISIS elements and to curb the expansion of Syrian Kurdish militia which Ankara views as an existential threat for its state-building ambitions across the south of the border.
Ankara, one of the ardent opponents of Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, lent significant support to warring rebels seeking to remove Mr. Assad from power. The rapid-moving developments on the ground forced Turkey to scale back its lofty goal of regime change in Damascus. The Turkish government instead focused on prevention of a Kurdish statelet in northern Syria and realigned with Russia in a major shift in its Syria policy.
But rapprochement with Moscow after a jet crisis did not smooth their competing agendas and conflicting strategies as Russia, despite Ankara’s protest, are now working closely with the Kurdish militia, is setting up a base in Kurdish-held Afrin.
The U.S.-Kurdish alliance is another thorn in the side of Ankara in its relations with Washington and the Turkish officials are expected to discuss Syria, the issue of Kurdish YPG militia and the approaching Raqqa operation with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during his visit to Turkey on March 30.
The MGK meeting provided a ground to assess latest security challenges, ongoing counter-insurgency operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants across Southeast, and upcoming referendum.
There were strategic ambivalence and confusion over Turkey’s stated objectives in northern Syria after conflicting statements from the Turkish officials. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pointed to Kurdish-held Manbij as next target, vowing to strike the U.S.-ally YPG militia if they fail to pull out of the city.
He also pressed for inclusion of Turkey-backed rebels, or the Turkish forces, to the U.S.-led offensive against Raqqa, the last stronghold and self-proclaimed capital of the Islamic State. Turkey’s adamant objection to Kurdish role in the Raqqa operation forced the U.S. to tread a delicate balancing act, even caused a delay in the operation.
Undaunted by the prospect of a potential diplomatic clash with Turkey, the U.S. military officials are seemingly tempted to move forward with SDF, a combination of Kurdish and Arab fighting groups. A number of efforts to reach a compromise between conflicting strategies of the two NATO allies seemed to stumble into failure.
Last month, Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar told the Turkish media that the Turkish military mission in Syria has been achieved with the capture of al-Bab from ISIS militants. His remarks were regarded as an affirmation of the military’s unwillingness to go further, publicly declaring that al-Bab was the final phase of the Euphrates Shield operation.
The MGK decision served as a confirmation that Turkey would not expand beyond al-Bab. Turkey has so far lost more than 70 soldiers in its costly Syria campaign, most of the casualties took place during the months-long bloody al-Bab siege.
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