The original version of this article can be found on The Telegraph
In the space of a few days after a terror attack in the Turkish town of Suruc which killed 32 people, Ankara launched air strikes against Kurdish guerilla group, the PKK, in northern Iraq as well as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) positions in Syria.
Prior to this, Turkey had finally agreed to America’s long request for access to its Incirlik air base in the country to launch jets and drones against Isil. Ankara’s change of heart on how it dealt with Isil and attacking PKK means that the crisis in Syria has changed significantly.
What that means next for the different groups involved or concern about the Syrian civil war is what the Telegraph and King’s College London academics explain.
What do Turkish air strikes mean for Isil?
Jill Russell, department of war studies:
War would not have endured in human history if managing its politics were easy. Nowhere is this difficulty more relevant and trying than in the diplomacy among allies. Turkey’s move to a more integrated position within the air campaign against Isil is complex and contradictory, creating problems as well as benefits. This must be accepted given its contested position in these events, geographically, culturally, politically, and strategically.
Turkey’s active presence in the constellation of global and local forces arrayed against the renegade ‘Caliphate’ tightens the noose around their strategic neck. Despite dire predictions this time last year when Isil unleashed their campaign in Iraq last summer, their imminent victory across the Iraq and Syria was oversold. Instead, brick by brick the necessary political and strategic opposition them has been built, and the addition of Turkey has every potential to strengthen the effort.
Isil’s defeat is probable, but it will not lack for challenges. The management of the relationships within the coalition will not avoid disagreements and discord. At times the parties may even seem to work at cross purposes to each other as well as the common goal without necessarily weakening the group’s resolve. As Turkey signals its committed stand against Isil, the rewards from which loom above even the fraught politics, the group’s demise is brought into sharper focus.
Francesco F. Milan, teaching fellow, department of defence studies:
An increase in the number, reach, and tempo of air strikes against Isil will undoubtedly benefit Syrian Kurds, which effectively represent the ‘boots on the ground’ component in the fight against the extremist group.
Through their guerrilla units (known by the acronym YPG) and their parent political party (PYD), Syrian Kurds have managed to establish themselves as one of the principal actors in Syria’s civil war, and even more so in the conflict with Isil.
While the United States have developed a working relation with both the YPG and the PYD, Turkey has not. Wary of the possibility of a politically autonomous Kurdish presence along its border, Ankara’s government has been adamant in pointing out how the two formations should be considered PKK offshoots, and, as such, treated as threats to Turkey’s own national security. In fact, as soon as Turkish air strikes started, YPG units have claimed to have been targeted along with Isil militias; the Turkish government, however, has claimed that YPG units currently remain ‘outside the scope of the current military effort’.
Perhaps more importantly, Turkey’s air strikes already had fundamental domestic repercussions. As previously mentioned, the combination of attacks against Turkish security forces carried out by the PKK and the consequent air strikes that hit the organisation’s safe haven on the Qandil mountains have effectively compromised any remaining hope for a rapprochement between the current government and the Kurdish minority.
After years of negotiations with the PKK, the two sides had eventually agreed on a ceasefire in 2013. Despite the lack of progress in the negotiations, the ceasefire held until last week. Now that clashes have restarted, the Kurdish question is likely to be raised once more in terms of security, overshadowing the electoral success that the Peoples’ Democratic Party, the first pro-Kurdish party to overcome the national 10 per cent electoral threshold, obtained in the general elections held last month.
Richard Spencer, Middle East Editor:
Turkey’s air strikes against Isil and the Kurds raise the possibility of Ankara’s direct involvement in the Syrian war for the first time.Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made overthrowing the regime of president Bashar al-Assad a priority, but has refused to intervene in the war directly without American backing, which has not been forthcoming. Instead, Turkey has backed a number of rebel groups, allowing them to be supplies through Turkish territory.
However, by guaranteeing a “safe zone” to be overseen by its favoured rebel groups, Turkey has put its reputation on the line. If this zone is successfully formed thanks to air attacks by its own fighter jets and those of the United States, it will have to be protected – including, if necessary, from the Assad regime’s jets and barrel bombs.
Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish prime minister, acknowledged this in an interview with Hurriyet newspaper, saying: “An important point was the air cover for the Free Syrian Army [FSA] and other moderate elements fighting against Isil. “If we are not going to send land units to the ground, and we will not, then those forces acting as ground forces cooperating with us should be protected.”
Turkey’s main concern is to prevent a unitary Syrian autonomous enclave emerging stretching from Afrin in the west to the Iraqi border in the east, cutting it off from the Syrian interior.
That concern will only have been exacerbated by Mr Assad’s tacit admission in a speech on Sunday that Syria was effectively divided into enclaves. As Mr Assad defends his core area while giving up on the north, Turkey will have to intervene to ensure its interests are met – otherwise other players, including the Kurds and Isil, will be allowed a free hand.
Turkey’s decision to grant use of the Incirlik airbase for United States-led air strikes against Isil militias means air operations into Syria and Iraq will now benefit from Incirlik’s proximity to Syria, as it sits less than 124 miles away from the Turkish-Syrian border. Besides allowing for more agile and far-reaching air operations in Syria and Iraq, the decision also ends a diplomatic tug-of-war that lasted for over a year: since the beginning of the US-led campaign, in June 2014, Turkey made access to the airbase conditional upon Nato’s commitment to the establishment of a no-fly zone over parts of Syria, in order to hinder military efforts carried out by Mr Assad’s regime.
The recent agreement does not seem to include a plan for the creation of a full-fledged no-fly zone, but there has been mention of a possible plan for the creation of a safe haven within Syria, to be located along parts of the Turkish-Syrian border currently controlled by Isil militias. Still, it seems this idea might be a ‘work in progress’ at best, as Mr Davutoglu recently confirmed Turkey is not planning to commit ground troops for deployment in Syria, and other Nato members do not seem willing to get involved.
More importantly, it seems the Turkish government might have more to its strategy than currently meets the eye. Turkish air strikes against Isil have immediately been followed by a series of retaliatory operations against PKK militias located on the Qandil mountains of Northern Iraq, after a car bomb killed two Turkish soldiers on Sunday. The events effectively ended a two year-long ceasefire between the two sides; as violence further escalated, Turkey called for a Nato meeting on the basis of the Treaty’s Article 4, which can be invoked when a member state believes its territorial integrity or security might be threatened.