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The stumbling blocks facing Turkey’s new operation plan in Syria

Kobani, Manbij and Tel Rifaat stand out as the main targets in a prospective new Turkish operation in northern Syria, but Erdogan might narrow his objectives to avoid tensions with the United States.
Syrian government forces monitor the northern Syrian town of Tel Rifaat on March 28, 2018.
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has raised the prospect of a fresh military operation in Syria, trying his hand once again at creating a safe zone with a depth of about 30 kilometers (19 miles) along the border — a plan he had to shelve in October 2021 after failing to get a green light from Russia and the United States. 

The plan, aimed at areas held by US-backed Kurds, is back on the table amid what Ankara sees as more favorable conditions since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. With the war boosting his stock, Erdogan believes he can now forge ahead in Syria, wielding Turkey’s veto power against Finland's and Sweden’s NATO bids as a bargaining chip. According to Ankara’s calculus, Washington could acquiesce to a Turkish move in Syria to clear the way for a historic NATO expansion and, depending on the targets Turkey selects, the operation could mesh with US plans to open a second front to Russia in Syria in response to the invasion of Ukraine. Similarly, Ankara reckons that Russia would struggle to focus on Syria amid its preoccupation with Ukraine and be unwilling to vex Turkey, which has provided it with a lifeline against the barrage of Western sanctions. 

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