Northern Syria after Turkish intervention

Map of Turkish intervention in northern Aleppo, Syria
After seizing the border strip from Azaz to Jarabulus, Turkey must decide whether to push further south into Syria to prevent a linkup of Kurdish territories (source: macpixxel for GIS)
  • Further Turkish attacks on Syrian Kurds would derail U.S. ground war against Daesh
  • Ankara assumes U.S. will not risk unity of NATO to protect Kurdish-dominated SDF
  • Russia has played “Kurdish” card to cement tactical alliance with Turkey
  • Long-term risks to Turkey increase the deeper it ventures into Syria

The entry of Turkish troops into the northern part of Aleppo province has made Syria’s civil war more complex than ever. It has also complicated the war against Daesh, also known as Islamic State.

Ankara declared that its Euphrates Shield operation was directed against Daesh. However, it was immediately clear that the main target was Rojava, the political project of the Syrian Kurds. The Kurdish armed forces, called the People’s Protection Units (YPG), form the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which over the past four months have ejected Daesh from a broad swathe of territory west of the Euphrates river.

The biggest prize was Manbij, the third-largest city in Daesh’s so-called caliphate. Manbij’s fall cleared the way for an SDF drive on the communications center of Al-Bab, which would have allowed a link-up with Afrin, the Kurdish enclave northwest of Aleppo. This prospect of unifying the three Kurdish cantons of northern Syria probably triggered Turkey’s military intervention, which had been under preparation for many months.

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