Turkey gearing up for military incursions into Iraq and Syria

Turkish army tanks at the Syria border.

Turkey is preparing for cross-border operations into Syria and Iraq in April according to reports.

Indications that a “Euphrates Sword” operation is on the way, as a follow-up to the recently concluded Euphrates Shield, have surfaced in Turkish media and through statements made by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

It has also been revealed that intelligence reports brought up for discussion in Turkey’s National Security Council (MGK) and Cabinet meetings have highlighted Shingal in Iraq, and Hasakah and Afrin in Syria as targets. The three main targets are all areas under the control of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), according to the reports.

An article in Turkish daily Sabah on Thursday claimed that the Turkish Army and the Free Syrian Army have for a long while had plans ready for an incursion into Afrin Canton in northwestern Syria, part of the de-facto autonomous administration of Rojava controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

President Erdogan said that “new operations will be given new names” in a rally in Trabzon on 3 April. In a TV interview on Turkish NTV, the President said the Euphrates Shield was the first stage and that a second and third are to come. Erdogan also mentioned Tal Afar and Mosul as being other possible targets.

“The operation will not limit itself to Syria. There is also the Iraqi aspect. Our brethren are in Tal Afar, Shingal, and Mosul too. We have soldiers stationed for work there,” Erdogan said.

The president expressed his concerns of the presence of the Hashd al-Shaabi, the Shi’ite dominated Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) in Iraq saying that the country is moving closer to Iran.

“The Iraqi parliament voted against the designation of [Hashd al-Shaabi] as a terrorist organisation. We told them there would be problems if they used the Hashd al-Shaabi. We have 400,000 Turkmens in Tal Afar,” the president said referring to a law passed by the Iraqi parliament in November that incorporated the PMU into the country’s armed forces.

Erdogan said that the situation in Shingal was much worse and that a “second Qandil” was being established, referring to the Qandil mountains in northern Iraq where the PKK has bases. He also claimed Turkey had entered Manbij, together with the US and Russia, in order to bring humanitarian aid and make sure the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) couldn’t enter the city.

“Let us first take care of the Manbij problem, then we’ll see with who and how we will take care of Raqqa. But if things will be done with the YPG and PYD, we won’t be part of that plan,” he said.