Turkey wants army to enter Syria, but army isn't so keen

Instead of military intervention, Ankara is working on alternative plans such as reinforcing border security, enlarging its own military zones and setting up logistics bases

al-monitor Turkish army vehicles move near the Mursitpinar border crossing, on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, Oct. 18, 2014.  Photo by REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach.

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turkey politics, turkey syria crisis, turkey-syrian border, rojava, kurds in turkey, kurds in syria, kurds, is

Jun 29, 2015

A debate in Ankara that was overshadowed by coalition negotiations suddenly surfaced after the bloody Islamic State [IS] attack against Kobani. The origin of this newly emerging debate goes back to the days when the civil war in Syria began to seriously affect Turkey’s border. Ankara, which has been constantly criticized for its ineffective border security, has been responding with calls for a no-fly zone over northern Syria and security zones along the border, but such calls did not get international support. That is why Ankara has been busy developing alternative plans such as reinforcing border security, enlarging its own military zones and setting up logistics bases close to the border that can be mobilized quickly. Some of these plans are already implemented.

But the PYD’s [Democratic Union Party's] expulsion of IS from Tell Abyad, followed by the linking of Kobani and Jazeera cantons, suddenly introduced possibility of a totally different development along the border: a Kurdish belt that will cover the entirety of north Syria.

For the PYD to achieve this goal it has to take control of the Jarablus area between the Kurdish cantons of Kobani and Afrin, which would mean a Kurdish belt totally free from IS presence.

But the latest IS massacres at Kobani have shown that this is not an easily achievable goal. For IS to lose this vital corridor and abandon the area that extends to its major center at Raqqa would mean the worst defeat of the organization. This explains the risky IS moves to prevent encirclement of Raqqa and Jarablus.

Ankara sees both a possible Kurdish belt and the IS presence at Jarablus as threats to Turkey’s security. This is why there are discussions on what to do about Jarablus and a 110-kilometer (68-mile) stretch of border controlled by IS. But there are diverging opinions at Ankara’s discussion tables. Recent security summits held in Ankara seem to have failed in eradicating these differences.

According to reports leaking from meetings, the need for Turkey to take unilateral action as long as there is no international action was raised last week in Ankara security meetings. A plan initiated by the government and developed by bureaucrats call for a 10-kilometer (6-mile) deep security zone at Jarablus. Of course Turkey is aware that the United States and some other coalition countries have been opposing a security zone idea from the outset and are not likely to accede Turkey’s new plan. To overcome allied reservations, Ankara added alternative options to its plans.

One option is for Ankara to organize on its side of the border and be fully ready to transfer to Jarablus when asked. The key element of this plan is for the Turkish Armed Forces [TSK] to be ready to immediately redeploy its entire secure zone structure to the Syrian side of the border.

According to reports in Ankara, TSK’s response to the government instructions was total surprise when the Chief of General Staff Necdet Ozel asked for a written order from the government. When Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu reminded the TSK that there is already parliamentary authority for such a cross-border operation, the military command asked for “a written order specifically about this case.” Davutoglu is reported to have penned a specific order even while discussions were going on. It is, however, understood that to activate a plan that would require intervention in a hot combat zone, a simple signature won’t be enough.

Among the reservations widely mentioned in Ankara, there is the approaching High Military Council after which a new command will take the command of the TSK and that such decisions should be made by the new command echelons. Moreover, a government is to be set up yet following [this month's] elections. If that can’t be done, snap elections are in the cards; this won’t be conducive for taking such major decisions.

The government front, however, sees these reservations as “foot dragging.” The government thinks that there must be immediate steps to prepare a structure that will take over control of the region in case of an emergency. The government believes that by doing so, formation of a Kurdish belt will be prevented, refugee waves will be avoided and international criticism will be mooted by preventing the crossing of foreign fighters from Turkey. This explains the government’s reaction to the reservations voiced.

Sources in the prime minister's office say that even if there is a coalition government, the prime minister's post will remain in AKP [Justice and Development Party] hands, and in case there are snap elections, the top party will again be the AKP, with Davutoglu retaining his post.

The most important point made by government sources is that the developments next door to Turkey are grave enough not to be ignored and delayed because of the High Military Council meeting or any other excuse.

The government’s message is clear: “It is not the time to stall by dragging our feet.”

Given the clear reaction of the political authority, no wonder there is intensified planning to be ready for an immediate operation.

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