EXPLAINER - What's the secret to Turkey's threats of incursion into Syria?

Residents in northern Syria are preparing for a new battle.

EXPLAINER - What's the secret to Turkey's threats of incursion into Syria?

Residents in northern Syria are preparing for a new battle. Turkey's leader has announced that he is planning a major military operation in order to defeat the Syrian Kurdish fighters. He also wants to establish a buffer zone along the border.

Tensions are high. It is not uncommon for there to be a firefight between U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters and Turkish forces, as well as the firing and shelling of opposition gunmen in Syria.

Analysts believe that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdan is using the conflict in Ukraine to advance his goals in Syria. He may even use Turkey's NATO membership to veto Sweden and Finland's alliance membership as leverage.

However, Ankara's major intrusion comes with many risks and complications. It could cause problems for Turkey's relations with Russia and the United States. This could also lead to a new wave in displacement in an already war-torn region, where the Islamic State group is still lurking in the shadows.

Here are some key issues and a brief overview of the situation.


Erdogan announced plans last month to restart Turkish efforts to create a buffer zone of 30 km (19 miles) in Syria. This buffer zone will be located along Syria's southern border, through a cross-border incursion versus U.S-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters. Erdogan had hoped to establish that zone by 2019, but a military operation was unsuccessful.

"We'll suddenly come down on them one night." Erdogan stated that we must, but did not give a time frame.

Turkey launched three major operations in Syria since 2016, targeting the main Kurdish militia, the People's Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey considers a terrorist organization. It also considers YPG an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' party, or PKK. For decades, the PKK has waged an insurgency against Ankara's government.

However, the YPG is the backbone of U.S. forces fighting Islamic State militants. It has also been a top U.S. ally during the conflict in Syria.

Through the three previous military operations in Syria Turkey already holds control of large swathes of territory in Syria including Jarablus, Tel Abyad, and Afrin. Ankara intends to build thousands upon thousands of housing units in these areas to guarantee what it calls the "voluntary returning" of 1,000,000 of the 3.7million Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey.

Erdogan stated Wednesday that Turkish troops are now aiming to seize new areas. This includes the towns of Tel Rifaat, Manbij and Manbij. These two towns sit at a key intersection of roads along Syria's west-east highway, the M4. Turkey claims that the Syrian Kurdish fighters use Tel Rifaat to attack areas held in Syria by Turkey-backed opposition fighters.

Reports have also suggested that Turkish troops could enter Kobani, a strategic border town where U.S. military personnel and Kurdish fighters fought to defeat IS in 2015. This town is a powerful symbol for the Syrian Kurds' aspirations to self-rule in this region of Syria.

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