Turkey ac­cel­er­ates Idlib mil­i­tary de­ploy­ment

Arab News - - INTERNATIONAL - MENEKSE TOKYAY

ANKARA: Turkey is ac­cel­er­at­ing its mil­i­tary buildup around Idlib with the de­ploy­ment of more units and drones to de­ter­mine sur­veil­lance points in the Syr­ian prov­ince.

The de­ploy­ment is part of the deesca­la­tion deal bro­kered in As­tana last month between Ankara, Tehran and Moscow.

On Wed­nes­day, ar­mored per­son­nel car­ri­ers and other mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles were trans­ferred to border units to in­crease pre­pared­ness, while ad­di­tional re­con­nais­sance teams en­tered Syria.

Idlib is mainly con­trolled by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), which re­jects the As­tana process. Turkey’s op­er­a­tion is mainly aimed at clear­ing out HTS and im­ple­ment­ing a de-es­ca­la­tion zone in the prov­ince.

An­other Turk­ish pri­or­ity is to con­tain ter­ri­to­rial con­ti­gu­ity between the Syr­ian re­gions of Afrin and Kobane, which are con­trolled by the Kur­dish Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG).

Ankara con­sid­ers the YPG a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion with links to the out­lawed Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Party (PKK), which has been wag­ing an in­sur­gency against the Turk­ish state for more than three decades.

Turk­ish me­dia re­port that the army will de­ter­mine 14 lo­ca­tions in Idlib to es­tab­lish sur­veil­lance points to de­ploy Turk­ish sol­diers.

Ex­perts are con­duct­ing fea­si­bil­ity stud­ies, with un­manned drones fly­ing over the area. Spots where the Turk­ish mil­i­tary may be vul­ner­a­ble to at­tack will also be de­ter­mined.

Re­con­nais­sance teams are work­ing closely with lo­cal forces, and Turk­ish mil­i­tary units will be sta­tioned on Syr­ian soil once the fea­si­bil­ity stud­ies are com­plete, the Turk­ish daily Hur­riyet re­ported.

Fol­low­ing Op­er­a­tion Euphrates Shield, this is the sec­ond time in a year that Turkey’s mil­i­tary has crossed into north­ern Syria.

“Idlib is im­por­tant for sev­eral rea­sons,” Oy­tun Orhan, a re­searcher on Syria at the Ankara-based think tank Or­sam, told Arab News.

“By solv­ing or at least freez­ing the prob­lem in Idlib, Turkey will avoid the risk of a refugee in­flux. By de­ploy­ing the Turk­ish mil­i­tary on the bor­ders of the de-es­ca­la­tion zone in Idlib, Turkey will pre­vent a pos­si­ble YPG ad­vance from Afrin. Also, Ankara will pre­pare suit­able con­di­tions for a fu­ture at­tack on Afrin.”

Given that Turkey’s Idlib op­er­a­tion is in co­or­di­na­tion with Rus­sia and Iran, Orhan said it has in­di­rect con­sent from the Syr­ian regime.

“So there will be no neg­a­tive re­ac­tion to Turkey’s move. The long-term plan is to di­vide the rad­i­cals from the mod­er­ates, then find a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion to the Syr­ian con­flict. Then Turkey will prob­a­bly leave Idlib in the con­text of a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion.”

Cen­giz To­mar, pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at Mar­mara Univer­sity, told Arab News: “The Turk­ish Army will bear a kind of peace­keep­ing mis­sion in the re­gion.”

But he does not ex­pect an op­er­a­tion in Afrin any­time soon. “Afrin is un­der US pro­tec­tion, while Rus­sia still main­tains con­tact with the YPG in the re­gion,” To­mar said.

“HTS has about 10,000 fight­ers in Idlib. There might be an un­der­stand­ing between it and Turk­ish forces to pull back to an­other re­gion be­cause HTS isn’t likely to pre­fer clash­ing with them.”

Turk­ish sol­diers stand near ar­mored ve­hi­cles dur­ing a demon­stra­tion in sup­port of the Turk­ish Army’s Idlib op­er­a­tion near Rey­hanli, Hatay, on the Turkey-Syria border. (AFP)

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