Hemmed in by Russia and outmanoeuvred by US-backing for a rival Kurdish militia, Turkey has called an end to its eight-month military operation in Syria, declaring Operation Euphrates Shield a success.
“The operation under way has been concluded successfully,” a statement summarising a meeting of the country’s National Security Council said. It added that it had achieved its goals of securing Turkey’s borders against Isis terrorist attacks, and creating an opportunity for Syrians to return to areas that Turkey’s military now controls in northern Syria.
The announcement comes a day before Rex Tillerson, US secretary of state, meets President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It is set to be a tense encounter as Turkish officials prepare for an American decision to exclude Turkey from military operations to liberate the Isis stronghold of Raqqa.
The US military is instead pushing for a Kurdish militia, known by its acronyms as YPG, to be the primary fighting force, frustrating a foreign policy objective for Mr Erdogan. He considers the YPG an extension of Kurdish terrorists who have waged a war against Turkey since the 1980s. The US-backing of the YPG has strained US-Turkish relations, while prompting Turkey to send its troops into Syria to create a buffer zone between its territory and land held by the Kurdish militia.
At the same time, Turkish ambitions west of the Euphrates, in a town called Manbij currently held by the YPG, have been frustrated by Russian intervention. Land swaps in the area between the YPG and the Moscow-backed Syrian regime have prevented the Turkish military from taking the town. A recent tripartite meeting between Russian, American and Turkish military officials ended acrimoniously over disagreements between Turkey and Russia, according to two people who attended.
“This is a settling of the status quo, where Turkey is confined to this Euphrates Shield while the US and Russia continue with their war plans,” said Aaron Stein, at the Atlantic Council think-tank. “The US’s plan is to take Raqqa, and the Russians will prop up the regime and push out the territories that it controls.
“That leaves Turkey as a consequential actor in the north but limited in its ambitions and realistic goals, and in its ability to shape outcomes in Syria,” Mr Stein said.
The security council statement did not provide details on what the conclusion would entail, and whether or not the Turkish military would lower its presence in northern Syria. It has lost dozens of solders in the months of fighting needed to oust Isis from three towns — Jarablus, Dabiq and al-Bab — and the villages and land between them.
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