Turkey to maintain military presence in Syria despite ending ‘Shield’ operation


A Turkish military vehicle seen on border with Syria. Photo: ARA News

The Turkish Army said Friday it will keep a military presence in Syria despite officially ending its offensive in the country’s north.

“Our activities continue for the protection of our national security, to prevent any undesirable entity, to allow our displaced Syrian brothers and sisters to return to their country, and to ensure security and stability in the region,” Turkey’s military said.

This comes just two days after the Turkish government announced that it has ended the “Euphrates Shield” military operation it launched in Syria last August.

Turkey has sent troops, tanks and warplanes to support Syrian rebel groups push ISIS militants away from its border and stop the advance of Kurdish fighters.

“Operation Euphrates Shield has been successful and is finished. Any operation following this one will have a different name,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Wednesday.

Dozens of Turkish soldiers were killed during the campaign.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Friday the completion of the military operation did not mean Turkey would ignore what takes place on its southern border.

“There should be no meaning taken from this that Turkey will remain indifferent to the security risks or will not engage there,” Kalin told reporters in Ankara.

“Just the opposite actually, security measures in the region continue at the highest level,” he added, without giving further details.

Turkey appears to be sidelined as US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), including Kurdish fighters, are laying the groundwork for an assault on the heart of the ISIS’ so-called caliphate.

President Tayyip Erdogan earlier said that Turkey was saddened by the US and Russian readiness to work with the Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria.

On August 24, the Turkish military and allied rebel factions launched Operation Euphrates Shield. As part of the operation, Turkey’s military and its allies took over Jarablus city in August. The Kurds have denounced the Turkish operation as an occupation of Syria, and vowed to resist it with the help of local forces.

The Turkish Army forces and allied rebels in Syria also captured the town of al-Bab on February 23 after a deal with ISIS to withdraw, in an operation that killed at least 444 civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Turkey, however, denied the killing of civilians in al-Bab.

After taking al-Bab, Turkey-backed Islamist rebels started to attack Manbij. However, in early March, the US-led coalition sent more armored vehicles to the north of Manbij city near the Sajur river in order to deter hostile acts between the the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Turkey. Also, a Russian aid convoy arrived to western Manbij for the same goal.

Turkey fears the Syrian Kurds carving out a self-governing territory analogous to Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, a move that might embolden Turkey’s own large Kurdish minority to try to forge a similar territory inside its borders.

In the meantime, the Turkish authorities continued to build walls and enter the Syrian Kurdish border areas for months. Moreover, there have been constant bombardments of Kurdish positions near Afrin, Til Rifaat, Kobane and Tel Abyad, where dozens have been killed, mostly civilians.

The Turkish government is building concrete walls under the pretext of stopping illegal crossings along the 900-kilometer borderline with Syria. However, Kurdish officials say the wall is built to embargo the Kurdish-held territories in Syria.

Source: ARA News & Agencies

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