Written by Brian Kalman exclusively for SouthFront: Analysis & Intelligence. Brian Kalman is a management professional in the marine transportation industry. He was an officer in the US Navy for eleven years. He currently resides and works in the Caribbean.
Back in February it appeared that the Turkish military was poised to invade northern Syria to establish a buffer zone, to facilitate logistics support to Turkish-aligned militants, and to make sure that Kurdish forces within Syria were unable to establish a unified territory along the southern border of Turkey. I wrote a detailed analysis of the Turkish options and likely actions to this end at the time, in the article titled The Turkish 2nd Army. Invasion Force for Syria? I envisioned an operation that would consist of elements of the Turkish 2nd Army, whose area of operations include the Turkish border with both Syria and Iraq.
The Turkish military incursion into Syria, launched on August 24th, has been comprised of some elements of the 2nd Army. This is evident from the armored and mechanized units that have been observed being mobilized, and crossing the border. Self-propelled artillery units of the 2nd Army provided sustained bombardment to support the opening stages of the invasion. Also, as I surmised in February, fixed wing aircraft have been employed to provide air cover for the ground invasion, and to strike ground targets in support of these operations.
The military situation in northern Syria before intervention:
The military situation in the area of Jarablus on August 28:
What I had not considered in February, was the probability of Turkey openly utilizing its military units to support, and co-mingle with, Turkmen militants and Islamic terrorist groups. It appears that the Turkish political establishment learned some lessons from the Russian and U.S. experience with military intervention in Syria. Russian special operations and air force assets support the Syrian Arab Army on the ground, while the U.S. has chosen to infuse special operations forces with YPG and SDF units. Instead of a direct military invasion in force, it was decided that proxies should bear the brunt of the fighting and provide a thin venire of legitimacy by portraying it as a majority Syrian rebel operation. Additionally, the reason given for the operation is to fight ISIS, remove them as a national security threat and to establish a buffer zone between the varied forces fighting within Syria and Turkey, and to provide a protected, humanitarian zone. It can easily be deduced that all of these explanations are a cover for the real Turkish objectives behind this operation.
Cover Story vs. Reality
Why has Turkey decided on direct military intervention now? The official reasons and the real reasons are quite different. President Erdogan announced that Turkey has suffered directly from the terrorism of ISIS and must remove the threat of ISIS on its border, centered on the town of Jarablus. Anyone that has followed the Syrian war realizes that Jarablus is one of the major arteries of logistic support from Turkey into Syria for a menagerie of Turkish supported militant and terrorist groups. Another major logistics avenue, the city of Azaz was similarly a major crisis point for Turkey. When it appeared that the YPG was going to take the city from militants early in the year, Turkey announced its intention to invade Syria. The YPG did not press its operation to wrest control of Azaz as a result, and this logistics avenue remained open.
Turkey is not primarily motivated by a desire to remove ISIS as a threat. As a matter of fact, it appears that ISIS commanders in Jarablus were given advance notice of Turkey’s intent to take control of the city, and the Turkish advance met with very little resistance. Turkey has taken the city to ensure the flow of arms and supplies to its militants battling the YPG and the Assad regime and to ensure that this logistics hub is not compromised through its capture by pro-Assad forces, and more importantly, the YPG. It became apparent that after finally capturing Manbij from ISIS, that the SDF/YPG alliance was moving to capture the strategically important Jarablus. Turkey had to move to prevent this. Turkey will move to limit the western expansion of Kurdish control, establish a “buffer zone” and keep the main logistics avenues of Azaz and Jarablus open to support its interests in the Syrian conflict. These interests include arms traffic, illicit smuggling of oil and historic artifacts, and the movement of refugees and terrorists in and out of the combat zone and even into Europe, all the while undermining the Assad government.
Kurds Sold-Out Again
The United States has been extremely vocal about the effectiveness of the YPG in fighting ISIS and other affiliated terrorist groups in Syria. It has diplomatically supported the Kurds, and has sent military aid to the YPG, in the form of small arms, explosives and ammunition, as well as military uniforms and equipment for quite some time. Direct military support and advisers in the form of U.S. special operations troops was officially acknowledged by Washington in May of this year. U.S. special operators were captured on camera working with YPG units in a combat role in late May, some of which were even wearing YPG shoulder patches.
The U.S. aided the YPG and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in their hard-fought battle to capture and liberate Manbij from ISIS. U.S. military advisors, intelligence and air support, were vital in this struggle. Upon the successful capture of the city, the YPG/SDF units regrouped and prepared to move north and east to consolidate their gains and to further confront ISIS strongholds. They were encouraged to do so by their U.S. allies, until it was communicated to them by Turkish officials that such a move by the YPG would not be tolerated. U.S. support for the failed coup in Ankara, tensions between NATO and Turkey, and the apparent thawing of relations with Russia have influenced Washington to acquiesce to Erdogan’s machinations in Syria. It is obvious that the U.S. made it very clear to the Kurdish leadership that they would not support them in any conflict with Turkey, but in fact they would give their full support to their long-time enemy in Ankara. It appears that their U.S. sponsors have convinced the Kurds to allow Turkey to occupy northern Syria, straddling the Kurdish controlled territories there, and to instead move south to advance in the direction of al-Raqqah.
A move toward al-Raqqah puts pressure on the Syrian government and their Russian allies while they battle to capture Aleppo and consolidate their position in the Homs, Idlib and Deir Ezzor provinces. The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) lacks the depth to carry out major offensive operations in Aleppo while at the same time moving eastward towards al-Raqqah. The United States knows this, and has convinced their Kurdish puppets to abandon their aims to consolidate their holdings in the north, abandon Manbij to Turkish proxies, after so much sacrifice, and to continue to combat ISIS in a more southerly direction, with the goal of taking al-Raqqah. The YPG have abandoned Manbij as of August 26th, and are apparently acquiescing to the demands of the United States.
When one takes a good look at past collaboration between Kurdish independence movements and the United States, the Kurds always end up on the short end of the stick. The United States has used the Kurds for their own aims, only to abandon them as soon as it becomes advantageous to do so. This happened during the first Gulf War (Desert Storm), in the aftermath of the second Gulf War (Operation Enduring Freedom) and will undoubtedly happen again in Syria. With such a track record, you would think that the Kurds would look for a more reliable ally. The United States will continue to use the Kurds as a pawn in the greater geo-political struggle to control the Middle East.
Turkish Forces Involved in Operation Euphrates Shield
It has been reported that the initial Turkish military involvement in Operation Euphrates Shield has amounted to a preparatory artillery bombardment, armored support from elements of an armored brigade, approximately 400 to 500 Special Forces troops, as well as limited air strikes. These forces most likely represent elements of the following units:
- 106th Artillery Regiment or 107th Artillery Regiment (2nd Army)
- 5th Armored Brigade, 20th Armored Brigade or 172nd Armored Brigade (2nd Army)
- Special Forces (Garrisoned in Ankara)
- 1st Commando Brigade, 2nd Commando Brigade or 3rd Commando Brigade (2nd Army)
Airstrikes could have been launched from Turkish Air Force squadrons based at Incirlik, Erhac, or Diyarbakir. It is most probable that the operation was only launched after assurances were given during meetings between President Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia would allow Turkish aircraft to operate in Syrian airspace. Airstrikes have been conducted in the past in southern Turkey and northern Iraq, utilizing F-16C/D aircraft. An effective Russian no-fly zone has existed in Syria since Russian intervention began in September of 2015.
A force of approximately 1,500 to 2,000 members of an amalgamation of Turkmen and Free Syrian Army (FSA) militants accompanied by about 400 to 500 Turkish Special Forces, with armored support provided by Turkish Army M60A3 MBTs and ACV-15s, struck south into the outskirts of Jarablus from the Turkish town of Karkamis, located just north of the border. The artillery barrages that opened the operation commenced at approximately 0400 hours, and lasted for two hours before the ground assault began at 0600 hours. It was reported that only 200-300 rounds were fired at an assortment of ISIS targets. When one considers the amount of ordinance expended in the many battles for urban strongholds in the Syrian war to date, this number is laughable. This fact is added evidence that Turkey expected no serious battle with ISIS over Jarablus. It is more likely that an agreed upon hand-over of the city by both parties took place beforehand.
Let Your Proxies do the Fighting
Taking a page from the U.S. military play book in the Middle East, Turkey has decided to let its proxies in the region bare most of the brunt of the fighting, while providing limited armored support, fire support from artillery units stationed just inside the Turkish border, air support via F-16C/Ds of the Turkish Air Force, and large numbers of Special Forces. The Special Forces troops are undoubtedly comprising the leadership role on the ground, as well as coordinating all fire support and air support, and facilitating the communication and dissemination of all intelligence information. This approach is similar in some respects to that adopted by the U.S. and even Russia.
Turkey has envisioned a swift operation to capture a number of key points and to establish a buffer zone of at least 25 miles (40km.) in depth. The militants are also being utilized to provide a cover of legitimacy to the incursion, and portraying Turkish military support as an aid to “Syrian” rebel efforts within their own country. It will be interesting to see if all of the assorted proxies and traditional adversaries will be able to cooperate for any length of time. Turkey and the United States have a number of complimentary and conflicting goals in the region and have decided to utilize forces on the ground that have zero interests in cooperating with one another. Syrian Turkmen, Kurds, and Islamic fundamentalists of Syrian and foreign origin, all have very different goals and motivations. These goals and motivations are not only in conflict, but they do not reflect the goals and motivations of their state sponsors.
Russia has chosen from the start to support the least of all evils in the country, and the only one that can provide stability in the case of ultimate success on the battlefield. While providing military advisors to help train SAA personnel and new recruits, and Spetsnaz troops to advise SAA officers on the battlefield, to facilitate reconnaissance deep behind enemy lines and to accurately target air strikes and artillery, they have largely decided to allow the Syrian military to conduct the brunt of fighting the war. Russia has utilized its air and naval assets to strike various militant and terrorist groups from a relatively safe distance or altitude, while also conducting dangerous close air support with attack helicopters in support of SAA ground operations. While Turkey and the U.S. aim to benefit by sowing disorder and fragmentation of the Syrian state, Russia aims to benefit from establishing order and consolidation of sovereignty in the hands of the most legitimate party.
It becomes readily apparent, after a mere tertiary review of the events, that the limited Turkish operation to combat ISIS is a false narrative to cover the reality that Turkey is invading Syria with its Islamic proxies to secure its own national goals. These goals are those of the corrupt Erdogan regime only, and not those of the Turkish people. Turkish security will not be served by continuing the spiral of violence and injustice in Syria, nor by filling the pockets of the Erdogan family and their mafia allies through money made from war profiteering and illicit smuggling. Turkey and the United States are hoodwinking the Turkish and Kurdish people, and feeding them a lie that has convinced them to subordinate their own interests. Turkey defeated the non-existent ISIS threat in Jarablus, which evaporated within hours, and will capitalize on the door that has been opened to them as much as possible. Russia will rue the day it trusted Erdogan again, and the Kurds must learn the truths of the past. The United States will continue to use them to its own ends until the Kurds finally stop acting like the battered spouse in the relationship.
In February of this year, SouthFront posted my analysis of a likely Turkish incursion into northern Turkey to establish a “buffer zone” between Azaz and Jarablus, and to facilitate Turkish aims in the Syrian conflict. The entire SouthFront military analysis team was in agreement with this analysis and the resulting article received wide interest and acceptance globally via the internet. SouthFront was at the forefront of educating the global community on this aspect of the Syrian conflict, as well as the greater geo-political conflict being waged by the varied state and non-state parties involved. SouthFront continues to cover these events and to provide a vital, independent point of view to a global audience. This author would like to personally thank all those that donate to the site, support our efforts and share our insight with their friends and family. With your help, we will continue to provide the true facts, free from the mainstream propaganda narrative, so that you can establish your own educated opinion on the nature of global events.