On August 24, the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) invaded Syria. At approximately 4 AM local time and at the helm of a large Islamist rebel force backed by US airpower, Turkey spearheaded Operation Euphrates Shield.
Watch the military advancement unfold below, courtesy of SouthFront
The assault on the Northern Syrian city of Jarablus was condemned by the government in Damascus as an illegal breach of the Syrian Arab Republic’s sovereignty. A source from the Syrian Government’s Foreign and Expatriates Ministry said that fighting terrorism in Syria required cooperation with the Syrian Arab Army (SAA).
The source reported to the Syrian Arab News Agency, went further, saying “What is happening in Jarablus now isn’t fighting terrorism as Turkey claims; rather it is replacing one type of terrorism with another.” Russia and Iran have been legally permitted to station advisers and fly military aircraft over Syria in the fight against ISIS. Turkey did not request permission before it undertook operations.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) occupation of the city began in early July 2014 and was preferred by Turkey’s President Erdogan over a Kurdish advance on the city, which was within reach after the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) captured Manbij by driving ISIS out. The YPG were supported by the U.S. in their operations across northern and eastern Syria against ISIS.
For Operation Euphrates Shield, the U.S. backed Turkey’s decision to place its proxy on the border and threatened the Kurds with defunding if they interfered. Vice President Joe Biden was in Turkey as the operation was conducted as a show of diplomatic support for the incursion. Both Joe Biden and the Turkish Prime Minister Yildirim
Both Joe Biden and the Turkish Prime Minister Yildirim warned the Kurds as the occupation was underway that any advance West of the Euphrates River would threaten U.S. support and possible military action by Turkey. ISIS left before the Ankara-backed rebel force reached Jarablus, in a perfectly executed retreat that allowed Turkey to bloodlessly occupy the city and its surrounding area.
The pretext for the advance on Jarabulus is said to have come after a number of mortar bombs hit a residential Turkish area near the Syrian border on the morning of August 23. Syria and Kurdish forces are both skeptical of Turkey’s true intentions.
The scope of Turkey’s objectives in Syria dramatically increased on day 2 of Operation Euphrates Shield. The Syrian Democratic Force (SDF), a Kurdish force affiliated with the YPG, lost nearly 300 fighters to take the city of Manbij from ISIS, including 6 foreign volunteers. Erwin Stran, one of those foreign volunteers, called the U.S. backing for Euphrates Shield a slap in the face to the Kurds, who spoke with ARA News. The advancement of Kurdish forces to the West of the Euphrates River has been put on halt.
The Kurds and the SAA both had sights on the city of Al-Bab. In mid-January, Syrian regime forces reached within 10 kilometers of the ISIS-held town, however, the offensive grounded to a halt following a counterattack by the jihadist group. A Levant Front official, a rebel group affiliated with the Turkish invasion of Syria, has said the next target of their operation is Al-Bab. The city is deep within Northern Syria, and far from the Turkish border. The Turkish military is likely to limit the number of assets on the ground, but full logistical support is expected as Turkey continues its effort to remove both ISIS and the Syrian government from North Syria.
Turkey as of December 23, 2016, has yet to take the city. They have advanced south to the cities outskirts, but ISIS has put up fierce resistance. At least 35 Turkish soldiers have been killed in Syria since the start of Operation Euphrates Shield. Turkish-backed rebels, despite the losses, remain the best positioned to capture the city.
The TAF’s inability to take Al-Bab in a timely manner had a significant impact on their military adventure abroad. The Syrian government circumvented any possibility of a further push south. The Syrian government and the Syrian Kurds agreed to place Syrian Arab Army (SAA) military assets in YPG territory. Turkish forces and their allies are segregated from the wider conflict against ISIS and will have less sway over the outcome and endgames of the Syrian conflict because of Operation Euphrates Shield slow push.
Read this next to understand: Why Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield Failed