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The Turkish military and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) continue to exchange blows in Syria’s northern region as their conflict enters into a new year.
A new round of escalation began on January 13, when Ankara blamed the Kurdish-led group for an indirect fire attack that targeted one of its bases in the region.
The Turkish Ministry of National Defense acknowledged that a soldier was killed in the attack on the base, which is located near the village of Hazwan in the northern countryside of Aleppo. This was Ankara’s first confirmed casualty in Syria this year. Several others soldiers were reported as wounded as a result of the attack.
In response to the deadly attack, the Turkish military carried out a series of artillery strikes on SDF positions near the towns of Tell Rifaat, Manbij and Kobane in the northern and northeastern Aleppo countryside late on January 13. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan named the three towns as the main target of any new ground operation against the SDF during a similar round of escalation last November.
Ankara said that at least 14 SDF fighters were “neutralized” in the retaliatory strikes. However, the group has dismissed these claims.
On January 14, Ibrahim Kalin, foreign policy adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said that a ground operation in Syria is “possible at any time.”
The remarks came amid ongoing efforts by Russia to restore ties between Ankara. Kalin stressed that the rapprochement with Syria did not mean Turkey was abandoning the option of launching a new ground operation against the SDF.
Turkey’s retaliation didn’t stop there. On January 15, Turkish combat drones carried out two airstrikes on positions of the SDF near the town of Amuda in the northern al-Hasakah countryside. The strikes caused some material losses, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. However, no causalities were reported.
Despite facing much pressure from the United States, the main backer of the SDF, as well as from Russia, Turkey appears to be determined to go after the group.
Ankara views the rapprochement process with Syria as one way to provide the support needed for a new ground operation against the SDF. An agreement with Damascus could indeed mark the end of the group, especially if it led to progress in intra-Syrian peace talks. To this day, the SDF is not a part of the talks, which are sponsored by the United Nations and recognized by the U.S.