In recent days, Turkish forces have shelled Kurdish held areas across the border in Syria allegedly in response to (PYD) YPG fighters capturing more areas along the Turkish Syrian border and allegedly attacking Turkish military outposts.
Turkey has requested that the Kurdish YPG give up territory recently gained in Aleppo province along the Turkish border following Syrian government and allied militia operations backed by Russian airstrikes against opposition groups.
In the tangled web of interests, conflicts of narrative and rhetoric, even among allied coalitions, Syria is throwing up all sorts of problems, hypocrisy and exacerbating existing regional problems.
Turkey sees the YPG as a terrorist group, affiliated to the PKK and expanding its territory along Turkeys border within Syria but the US, UK, France and Russia see them as an ally to fight IS in Syria and Iraq.
A report was presented by Turkey to the US recently allegedly proving close ties between the PYD and the PKK, the latter being a listed terrorist group by Turkey, the US, the EU and NATO but not by United Nations, Russia, China and Switzerland.
Turkey supports opposition groups in Syria (some of which harbor fundamentalist Islamic ideologies) fighting against IS, some Kurdish groups, the Syrian Arab Army and its allies including fundamentalist Islamic groups such as Hezbollah.
The war of words continues between Russia and Turkey with tensions increasing daily. Turkish officials have stated recently that ground operations could happen in the near future along with Saudi Arabia and possibly other Gulf states if a ceasefire agreement is not reached soon.
Turkey claims Russia is targeting civilians, opposition groups and propping up the Assad government. Russia claims that Turkey is supporting groups such as IS and Jabhat al Nusrah with military supplies, allowing fighters to move across it’s border relatively unhindered and allowing oil tankers through from IS territories.
As the tit for tat war of words escalates between Russia and Turkey in particular, so do the military maneuvers.
Russia has reportedly moved air defence weapons such as the S-400 missile system into Syria and missile cruisers off the coast of Syria. This activity increased when Turkey shot down a Russian jet on the 24 November 2015 over Syria after Turkey alleged that the Russian jet had violated it’s airspace.
Russia is also reportedly sending S-300 missile systems to Iran, following through on a previous agreement, then blocked by the UN in 2010 in relation to Iran’s nuclear program. The timing maybe coincidental, it may not be also.
Turkey has Spanish Patriot missiles deployed along its border and recent reports on social media allege that Turkey is deploying it’s own KORKUT air defence system to Hatay and Kilis border towns.
NATO and Turkey also agreed to a defense package on the 18 December 2015 which would aim to increase Turkeys air defence capabilities on it’s Syrian border. It would include AWACS surveillance planes and naval ships, how much of this has been implemented so far is unclear.
- Reuters article (18 Dec 2015) – Exclusive: NATO agrees Turkey air defense package, seeks ‘predictability’:
As hostilities increase, the middle east and Syria in particular seems to be at its most volatile in a long time. With an abundance of International players and hardware coalesced around the conflict for different reasons, it is crowded and more dangerous than ever. In some cases, all that is required is an excuse.
UPDATE 17 February 2016:
An explosion has taken place in Ankara, Turkey, killing and injuring a number of Turkish military personnel and civilians.
A senior Turkish security source claimed that initial reports suggest it was carried out by the PKK, the same PKK that Turkey alleges the PYD is affiliated to. The PYD occupy territory in Syria along Turkeys border, much to Turkeys dissatisfaction as mentioned near the top of this post.
Others however think it may be IS who is responsible and they have made attacks in recent history.
Either way, both fit Turkeys current narrative and it will be interesting to see if Turkish officials use the atrocity to justify larger scale attacks on Kurdish forces along it’s border in Syria or justify the recently muted possible ground assault on IS positions.
Or both, there by assisting Syrian opposition forces whom it supports.
UPDATE 18 February 2016:
Following on from yesterdays post and suggested possible developments, just like clockwork, it seems Turkey now have their justification to initiate larger scale offensives against Kurdish forces in Syria.
Turkey are desperate to change the balance of power towards opposition fighters and see them in control of territory along the Syrian/Turkey border.
- Vice News article (18 Feb 2016) – Turkey Blames Syrian Kurds for Ankara Attack and Vows Retaliation:
UPDATE 20 February 2016:
A Kurdish militant group has claimed responsibility for the bombing in Ankara. The Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK) alledge it was they who committed the atrocity in response to the policies of President Tayyip Erdogan and said it would continue its attacks according to Reuters.
- Reuters article (19 Feb 2016) – Kurdish militant group TAK claims responsibility for Ankara bombing:
Also according to Der Spiegel, NATO has warned Turkey that it will not support it if conflict breaks out with Russia according to Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn:
“NATO cannot allow itself to be pulled into a military escalation with Russia as a result of the recent tensions between Russia and Turkey”
It goes on to say that should Turkey be responsible for escalation, say officials in both Berlin and Brussels, Ankara would not be able to invoke the NATO treaty (Article 5).
- Spiegel Online article (19 Feb 2016) – Putin vs. Erdogan: NATO Concerned over Possible Russia-Turkey Hostilities:
It remains to be seen if Turkey will forge ahead and escalate the situation further by going it alone or looking to gain support with Gulf states for a combined deployment without US or NATO assistance.