The Turkish military is currently conducting an anti-terror military operation in northern Syria — a third one in three years — with a stated goal of clearing the way for the return of millions of Syrian refugees and stamping out the security threat near its southern border.
Ankara expects its NATO allies to express solidarity on the ongoing operation in Syria, Turkey’s foreign minister said on Friday during a press conference with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
The NATO chief, for his part, called on Turkey to show “restraint” in the operation, now in its third day.
Turkey launched the offensive, codenamed Operation Peace Spring, on Wednesday against what it calls terrorists based in northeastern Syria, south of its border.
The area is de facto controlled by the SDF, an alliance of militias led by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a mainly-Kurdish militant group. Turkey views the YPG to be the extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, an outlawed organisation pushing for the greater autonomy of Kurdistan.
Infighting has broken out between Turkish and Kurdish forces as the former are pushing deeper into the Kurdish-held territory following aerial and artillery attacks. Turkey reported that it had killed 277 “PKK-YPG terrorists” so far and had its first military fatality today.
Ankara wants to drive terrorists away from the area to create there a weapons-free buffer zone and send there up to 2 million Syrian refugees out of the nearly 3.6 million currently living in Syria. The Damascus government, which doesn’t control the region but legitimately sees it as part of the Syrian territory, considers the “safe zone” project to be a violation of its sovereignty.
Since 2016, Ankara has carried out two major anti-terror military operations in Syria that targeted both Daesh* terorrists and Kurdish-led forces. The military efforts were mainly focused on eliminating the latter.
The current operation was made possible after the United States — a key ally of the YPG — effectively endorsed it by withdrawing forces from the area. US President Donald Trump said however that he did not support the incursion and was ready to retaliate should Turkey go “off limits”.