Turkish Army boosts border security with Syria

Sunday 03/07/2016
Fighters from Syrian Democratic Forces gathering on outskirts of northern town of Manbij

OTTAWA - Turkey is working to bet­ter secure its border with Syria with the Turkish Army expected to install new air-defence systems around the southern province of Ki­lis, an area repeatedly hit by rocket fire from Syria.
The systems, which were devel­oped in Turkey, will be deployed at the Elbeyli border crossing, security officials said. The new capabilities include a counter-mortar radar sys­tem, a self-propelled air-defence gun system capable of firing 1,100 rounds per minute and expected to destroy rockets 4km away and two batteries of High-Mobility Artil­lery Rocket System (HIMARS) along with scores of armed drones.
Turkey has deployed similar de­fence systems at the Oncupinar bor­der crossing, also in Kilis. Turkey said expansion and further devel­opment of the air defence systems to the Elbeyli border crossing will boost the overall border security.
The bolstering of security at this section of Turkey’s borders high­lights the prospects for establishing Ankara’s long-demanded vision of a safe zone in Syria. A safe zone would serve Turkish interests in northern Syria by aiding Turkish-backed Arab and Turkmen rebels and, as a result, decreasing the likelihood of further Kurdish advancement towards the border.
In addition, a safe zone would create a region of refuge for dis­placed Syrians, easing the influx of refugees to Turkey and Europe.
This idea of a safe zone remains ambitious. With massive support from the United States and Euro­pean countries, the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) — an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that Turkey lists as a terrorist group — has made signifi­cant advances in the territory that Ankara once labelled as a “red line”.
PYD forces crossed the line ear­lier this year and moved west of the Euphrates. The PYD is conducting a major campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Manbij, 30km west of the Euphrates.
Turkey aims to keep the two Kurdish-controlled regions of Syria (east of the Euphrates region and the canton in north-western Syria) separated from each other. Ankara fears that there is an increasing pos­sibility that Kurdish forces will link territory captured from ISIS west of Manbij with another Kurdish-held area east of Marea. The Kurd­ish question remains the most toxic threat facing Turkish national iden­tity and security.
Although Turkey’s government has the parliamentary authorisation as well as the support and capability of the army to take unilateral mili­tary action in Syria, Ankara is faced with roadblocks from international powers.
The United States and its allies rely on the PYD to conduct the anti- ISIS fight. Washington has pushed for the establishment of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an um­brella of armed groups in north­ern Syria composed mainly of PYD troops with smaller contingents of Arab fighters to counter ISIS. Ankara, however, re­mains concerned, given the leading role of the PYD within the SDF.
Adding to the complex­ity of Turkey’s strategy in Syria is the role of Rus­sia. Ankara and Moscow have had tense relations since Turkey downed a Russian Su-24 war­plane in November 2015. Moscow increased its military presence in Syria considerably after the incident, which pushed Ankara to rethink its vision for the no-fly zone, in fear of Russian retaliation and further complications.
With limited options, Turkey is looking to adopt a new policy to­wards the war in Syria. The Turk­ish government is approaching the changing realities on its southern border with pragmatism. Ankara has downsized its demand for a safe zone along its entire 800km border with Syria to calling for the frontier under Arab rebel control between Azaz and Jarabulus — about 90km — to be protected. It is likely that Tur­key will increase its arming rebels near Azaz to capture areas between al-Rai and Jarabulus from ISIS.
Though Turkey has compromised with the United States on PYD’s move west of the Euphrates, it remains cautious and mili­tarily ready and is likely willing to make an in­cursion if Kurd­ish militants ad­vance offensively.