On January 4th, al-Monitor published an analysis into a possible conflict in the Turkish army’s top brass over the operation in Syria.
According to the author, Fehim Tastekin, while Turkey was negotiating with the US over the roadmap for the area east of the Euphrates River and Manbij, while also coordinating with Russia to get their approval for a military operation against the Kurdish militias, something unusual took place:
“Four-star Gen. Ismail Metin Temel, the commander who runs the Iraq and Syria fronts and built a reputation for his leadership skills during the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations in Syria, and Brig. Mustafa Barut, the commander of the Fourth Commando Brigade, were suddenly transferred to desk jobs.”
Turkish media reported that they were removed due to objections to the country’s Euphrates plans. Presumably, this move against “two commanders highly valued” by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is proof for the contradictions and disagreements in the Turkish military’s top brass.
Deniz Zeyrek, a columnist for Sozcu and seasoned defense and diplomacy writer had provided a summary of the two generals’ objections into three points:
- The threat Turkey now faces is different from what we encountered in the Euphrates Shield and Afrin operations. The People’s Protection Units (YPG) today receives substantial support from the United States. They are better equipped and trained.
- The international support Turkey received for its two earlier operations is no longer available. Both the United States and Russia are sending mixed messages. Climatic and topographic conditions could work against our goal of minimal casualties.
- The United States is trying to task Turkey with a war against the Islamic State. Turkey is not required to fight IS far from its border.
“Until now, the top military ranks had kept quiet on their differences of opinion, but over the past days retired officers have voiced unease with the government’s Syria policy,” Tastekin reported.
US President Donald Trump’s announcement of a withdrawal from Syria and saying that he entrusted the fight against ISIS to Turkey raised questions regarding an operation east of the Euphrates. Reportedly, in the specifics of this operation is where the rift lies:
“The deepest schisms are between what Ankara wants and what Trump means by offering to hand over the territories that American forces will evacuate. While the United States assigns the mission of combating IS to Turkey, Ankara is talking about wiping out the autonomous Kurdish structures emerging in northeast Syria.
Ankara’s original plan was to set up a buffer zone of 10-40 kilometers (6-25 miles) between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers that would be cleansed of the YPG. Turkey doesn’t have any ambition to go deep inside Syrian territory and reach Deir ez-Zor to fight against ISIS”
However, Senator Lindsey Graham and Donald Trump both said that the US Kurdish allies would be protected, which may be a hurdle in front of Turkey’s plans.
“Yet if Turkey’s plan for the area is as destructive as its one in Afrin, how are the Americans going to protect the Kurds? If the buffer zone is the formula to distance Kurds from the border, how will it be secured without clashes? How can the United States, which is planning to withdraw its 2,000 troops from the field, enforce the buffer zone?”
Meanwhile, Russia is allegedly attempting to convince Ankara to give up the operation against the Kurdish militias and allow the Syrian army to be deployed to Manbij and East of the Euphrates. The logic behind is that if the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) arrives, the YPG (People’s Protection Units) control will end.
However, Turkey suspects that the Kurdish groups will have a plan to remain in the area even after the SAA establishes control.
“While Turkey is struggling between the US and Russian plans, another element makes the issue even more complex: Washington wants to deploy Saudi, UAE and Egyptian troops in the region, hardly friendly forces to Turkey. The plan has already made Turkish officials nervous. Reports that Egypt has been trying to get Kurds and Damascus to negotiate have made Turkey even more tense.”
The analysis claims that keeping Iran away from Syria is of no concern for Turkey. It already defies US sanctions on oil exports and trade with the Islamic Republic.
“There are also questions about the likelihood of success for a land operation east of the Euphrates. Afrin, apart from a single exit corridor via Tel Rifaat, was already under siege during the previous operation. As the area was isolated, the YPG had limited manpower and weaponry. East of Euphrates, however, the YPG is equipped with US weaponry and experience gained in their combat with IS. Afrin was surrounded by armed groups guided by Turkey that had declared hostility to the YPG. The southern flanks of the Euphrates-Tigris line is wide open to surprises.”
The article points out that the conduct of local Turkish-backed militias is also “deplorable,” with accusations of looting, torture, maltreatment and other questionable actions in the area. In addition to that the recent operations of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham have defeated several Turkish-backed groups and has imposed control over numerous towns.