Turkey’s illegal invasion and occupation of Syria is known by Ankara as Operation Euphrates Shield. It formally commenced on the 24th of August, 2016. According to Turkey, Euphrates Shield was aimed at fighting ISIS as well as Kurdish YPG forces near the Turkish border.
In reality, Turkey has trained, armed and funded members of the jihadist Free Syrian Army in what Syria classifies as a war of aggression. In recent months, the operation became far more about fighting Kurdish forces in Syria than about any of Turkey’s other wider goals such as regime change in Damascus.
Turkey’s operation had no basis in international law.
This could mean several things.
It could be yet another one of Turkey’s many bluffs on the international stage. Whilst Turkey’s National Security Council claims the operation has ended successfully, there is every possibility that both direct Turkish aggression against Syria as well as aggression from its FSA proxies could continue into the foreseeable future.
But if the statement turns out to actually be backed up by realities on the ground, there are two distinct possibilities behind it.
Although Syria has complained before the UN and other international bodies of the illegal nature of Turkey’s aggressive invasion and occupation of Syrian territory, such expressions of frustration with Turkey have largely fallen on deaf ears.
However, if Russia or America made their private views known to Turkish President Erdogan, this could have impacted Turkish decision making.
For slightly different reasons, both Trump’s United States and Putin’s Russia have desired an end to Turkish meddling in Syria. Russia is privately and to some extent publicly, angry at Turkey’s totally destabilising role in Syria. Russia speaks from the perspective of both an integral ally of the Syrian Arab Army’s campaign against terrorism, but also as a power which has looked favourably to Krudish efforts to fight various jihadist groups including both the Turkish backed FSA and the Saudi/Qatari backed ISIS.
America, even under Trump, has no real time for the legitimate government in Syria but is instead, hellbent on utilising Kurds to both fight the war against militant Salifism. Additionally Washington wants Kurds to form the nexus of a post-war settlement. Because of this, America would not want a putative ally (and fellow NATO member) in Turkey to be fighting against their favourite proxies in the Syrian conflict.
In terms of destabilising Syria, emboldening pro-Turkish terrorists and prolonging conflict, Euphrates Shield has indeed been a success. But in terms of making gains against Kurds, making meaningful gains against the Syrian Arab Army, getting America and Russia to change their thinking and most importantly to help oust President al-Assad, Euphrates Shield has been a colossal failure for Turkey.
In this sense, there is a distinct possibility that Erdogan has proclaimed ‘mission accomplished’ for domestic consumption ahead of his referendum for extra Presidential powers set for the 16th of April. Erdogan is no stranger to using external events in order to bolster his domestic popularity.
The biggest question remains, will Turkey actually now leave Syrian territory, taking their FSA fighters with them? Or inversely, is this yet another meaningless statement from a Turkish regime known for half-truths and downright lies?
Time will tell.