Turkish Army boosts border security with Syria
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.