Defense

Turkish Military Makes Serious Play To Cut ISIS Throat In Syria

Ihlas News Agency via REUTERS

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Russ Read Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter
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Turkish military forces began an all-out invasion of several towns along the Syrian border Wednesday in an apparent attempt to cut off a key ISIS staging area in the region.

The Turkish assault, known as Operation Euphrates Shield, appears to be in coordination with Syrian rebels and U.S. forces, with a specific focus on retaking the city of Jarablus. The city serves as an important junction point, as it sits between the Turkish border and Euphrates river. Thus far, Turkey has sent in armored units, backed by F-16 fighter aircraft. Some reports claim that U.S. military advisers are embedded with the Turkish army and their 5,000 Syrian allies.

Turkey’s border assault is the largest military engagement the country has conducted since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, but the attack may not be all it seems. While Jarablus has been held by ISIS for some time, it appears Turkey has chosen to strike the city in order to prevent the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) from arriving first.

Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, warned the YPG that they may come under attack unless they retreat to the eastern side of the Euphrates river. Turkey has a long and bloody history with the Kurds, which make up a substantial minority in the country. If Kurdish forces take Jarablus, they would control of most of Turkey’s southern border with Syria, posing a potential threat to Turkey’s sovereignty that Turkish leaders are not willing to risk.

Syria’s foreign ministry condemned the Turkish assault, claiming it was a breach of the country’s sovereignty.

“What is happening in Jarablos now isn’t fighting terrorism as Turkey claims; rather it is replacing one type of terrorism with another,” a source within the ministry told the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA). Russia, a Syrian ally, has called on Turkey to coordinate with the Syrian government in its counter-terrorism operation.

The assault puts the U.S. in a precarious position. One the one hand, Turkey is a NATO ally and a crucial partner in the fight against ISIS. On the other, the U.S. has tacitly supported YPG forces as they have fought ISIS in Syria. Backing Turkey in the assault on Jarablus could be seen as picking sides in a complicated diplomatic situation. Fortunately for U.S. policy makers, the assault began around the same time Vice President Joe Biden landed in Ankara to meet with Turkish leaders. Undoubtedly, the assault on Jarablus will be a topic of conversation.

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