Turkey (GPA) – The last few days have seen both renewed commitments between Turkey and their allies to fight terrorism in Syria and Turkish troops and rebels clashing with the same forces they should be working with.
It’s been a busy week for Turkish President Recep Erdogan. In the past few days, the Turkish leader has both reconfirmed his commitments to fighting terror with key allies like Russia and the US and has also had his troops hit accidentally by Russian bombs and move closer to coming up against the Syrian army.
Commitments to Fighting Terror
Erdogan took two major phone calls this week, one from Russian President Vladimir Putin and another from US President Donald Trump. In both of these calls, the leaders discussed increasing cooperation with Ankara in the fight against the Islamic State(IS).
The phone call with Donald Trump took place sometime during the late hours of Wednesday. The two leaders apparently agreed to step up efforts to fight IS in the Syrian cities of Raqqa and al-Bab. According to the Turkish government, Trump was informed that there is detailed plan for recapturing the two areas from IS, which is now being discussed by the two governments.
Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin told Turkish broadcaster NTV in an interview after the call that “The operational details were not discussed on this call … Now detailed planning will be conducted in coordination.” Turkey sees the region around Raqqa and al-Bab as crucial to their security and seeks to create a zone of influence to cut off terrorist access to their border.
There are also rumors circulating, allegedly from Erdogan’s inner circle, that the two leaders also discussed the controversial “safe zone” idea that Turkey has supported for some time now. There was also allegedly discussion about the US stopping support for the Kurdish YPG militia who are part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition Trump just supplied with armored vehicles last week.
We have less information on Erdogan’s phone call with Vladimir Putin but we do know that similar to his call with Trump. Erdogan is said to have expressed he wants to further enhance coordination with Russian forces, also active in the Raqqa and al-Bab regions. The two leaders were also said to have discussed ways to further bolster the latest ceasefire agreements made during three days of negotiations in Kazakhstan last month.
Confusion in Northern Syria
While these new agreements were being made, the fighting around al-Bab and Raqqa has grown more complex by the day. Turkish troops and rebels propped up by Ankara seem to be moving towards an inevitable confrontation with a host of groups that could cause conflict.
An event highlighting some of this confusion just happened today when a Russian jet bombed a building that had Turkish troops inside, killing three and injuring eleven others. Putin and Erdogan also discussed this in their phone call. Putinhas apparently offered his condolences for the mistake.
This event isn’t likely to set back relations between Russia and Turkey to where they were just a year ago but it does show the level of confusion in the area. Turkey is likely to come into future contact with several groups in this area that could put strain on some relations, including the Russian allied Syrian military.
There are already stories following the phone call between Putin and Erdogan of Turkish backed rebels coming into contact, and exchanging fire with members of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA). The SAA and the Turkish supported operation ‘Euphrates Shield’ coalition are both moving on al-Bab from different directions and coming increasingly close to each other.
The Turkish and Syrian militaries haven’t engaged each other yet but Russian ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad does not like the idea of Turks running operations in his country. Damascus has apparently sent two letters to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) saying the presence of Turkish troops “represents a flagrant violation of Syrian sovereignty and of the principles and purposes of the U.N. Charter and the rules of international law.” The Syrian government accused Turkey of supporting terrorism via in the form of “rebel groups,” which in the past have possibly even included IS.
The Turks are also moving on territory already taken from IS by the previously mentioned SDF. Apparently there have already been clashes between these two US partners who are both supposed to be fighting terrorists in the region of al-Bab. Ankara is apparently upholding the tradition they’ve had during the entire Syrian conflict, using offensives against actual terrorists to continue to strike at Kurdish groups over grievances stemming from Turkey’s domestic conflicts.
The fight for al-Bab and Raqqa is going to be crucial since these are some of the largest remaining areas of IS controlled territory. Raqqa has been the de-facto “capital” of IS since they first declared their imaginary caliphate. The operations in the area seem to be off to a rocky start already and will be something to watch closely, both as a possible end to the “caliphate” and as a test for geopolitical relations between several world leaders.