Operation Euphrates Shield, a Turkish military operation in northern Syria that launched on August 24, 2016, was concluded recently to little fanfare, but with much speculation about what comes next for Turkish foreign policy in Syria.
I discussed it recently on TRT World – The Newsmakers with anchor Imran Garda facilitating and Samir Hafez, former President of the Syrian Turkmen Assembly, as the counter guest.
Was it a successful military operation that achieved Turkey’s foreign policy objectives? I continue to be skeptical but appreciated the opportunity to debate it (as my first press appearance, ever). We probed a range of other issues concerning Syria; my biggest take away from which was how significantly different the perspectives across Syria continue to be after 7 years of war and over 500k+ casualties.
Should Syria remain an independent nation, partition itself, or reintegrate with Turkey as the neo-Ottoman agenda would hope? Not a topic on the agenda I’m sure, but to my surprise, it was on the table at the Istanbul-based media outlet.
Check out the discussion in the audio below. After the interview, I write a few more thoughts on why Operation Euphrates Shield was not a success. I know in that segment there wasn’t the time to really examine it more closely.
Operation Euphrates Shield put into question Turkeys capacity for conducting military adventures abroad. The Turkish armed forces are the second largest army in NATO, but as the battle for Al-Bab dragged on they increasingly took on the appearance of a paper tiger.
Officially at least 70 Turkish soldiers were killed and for that sacrifice, they only managed to push 20 miles south of their respective border.
The Turkish armed forces began operation Euphrates shield with an intense convoy of military assets crossing the border into Syria on August 24. The ambitions of the operation were escalated August 25 by political leaders back home as it became clear ISIS would withdraw from a fight in Jarablus. President Erdogan had great expectations for what his armed forces could achieve. Al-Bab was not the desired goal, it was only the furthest outpost Erdogan and his allies could set up.Euphrates Shield did not go as planned. It took longer than expected for the TAF and their rebel proxies to make progress.
President Trump, as he so often reminds us, likes working with winners and his White House is interested in a quick military victory against ISIS. It becomes clearer why the administration has chosen to strengthen its alliance with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and snub the Turkish army and its proxy militias. The SDF are closer to reaching Raqqa than any other armed group on the ground in northern Syria. They can help the White House achieve their much sought after victory in Syria against ISIS.
It should be noted that of all the major foreign military actors on the ground, only Russia and Iran were welcomed by the Syrian government. A large presence of any anti-Assad force would be seen as incendiary and lead to more direct confrontation.
Turkey and the U.S both have to find a way to cooperate with this anti-terrorism coalition to reach their ultimate goals. The American goal was, up until the recent shift over a hoax sarin gas attack, was to dismantle terror networks in Syria that are a regional and international threat. Turkey’s objective will continue to be much the same, prevent the full-fledged autonomy or independence of Kurdish cantons on their southern border.
We’ve learned time and again over the course of this war that military victories on the ground are what will determine the future of Syrian politics. Turkey put boots on the ground very late in the conflict and its citizens should be skeptical of any plan by the Erdogan administration to begin new operations. The battle for Manbij, currently occupied by the SDF after ridding it of ISIS, would be far fiercer than even the resistance in Al-Bab, and there would be regional and international repercussions because nearly all actors on the ground in Syria would be skeptical of such a police action against an anti-ISIS force.
The American air strikes against a Syrian government military installation in Homs province certainly put into question whether the trajectory of the war is as predictable as it seemed just a week ago.
We who cover this conflict will have to learn how to read this new administration’s intentions because it’s clear there is no real strategy and policy is being made ad-hoc. There are some suggesting if the U.S. were to send in group troops, they would come from Turkey, which would force myself and others to seriously rethink what Turkey can achieve in Syria if the U.S. was to make such a wild shift. Unpredictability puts major stress on any analysis of the war’s trajectory. That probably won’t be a good thing for Syria in the long-run, especially as it just seemed to be nearing its endgame.