Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reportedly authorized the modification of the country’s rules of engagement, which would allow for Turkish forces to attack targets inside Syria. Is Turkey finally getting serious about locking down its border to ISIS? Yes, but that’s not Erdogan’s main focus. The plan is being put in place in order to prevent the emergence of a Kurdish state on Turkey’s doorstep. The Telegraph:
Following Mr Erdogan’s speech, Turkish media were briefed on new orders being given to the military to prepare to send a force 18,000-strong across the border, with some reports saying the move could take place as early as Friday.
The troops would seize a stretch of territory 60 miles long by 20 deep into Syria, including the border crossings of Jarablus, currently in Isil hands, and Aazaz, currently controlled by the Free Syrian Army but under attack from Isil.
The buffer zone would kill several birds with one stone. As well has allowing Turkey to establish refugee camps not on its soil but under its protection, it would prevent the two current zones of Kurdish control – from Kobane to the Iraq border in the east, and Afrin in the west – from joining up.
Turkey’s security cabinet released the following statement after its meeting with Erdogan:
The developments taking place in our southern neighbor, Syria, have been assessed in detail and additional measures taken along our border have been reviewed. Concerns over terror acts targeting the civilians in the region as well as attempts for demographic change have been voiced.
(The reference to “demographic change” are in response to widespread (albeit disputed) reports of Kurdish fighters driving Arabs and Turkmen from the territories they have secured.)
Though the plans are being formalized, their actual implementation is less likely than would appear given the bluster coming out of the government. Hurriyet reported today that the Turkish Armed Forces would prefer participating in an international bombing campaign to sending their young foot soldiers into the meat grinder that is Syria’s civil war. And most of the opposition parties, at least some of whom would need to participate in a coalition with Erdogan’s recently-chastened AKP, are against getting involved as well.
Is this enough to keep Turkey from going in? We shall see. But if the Turks do ultimately get inolved, it will represent yet another critical milestone: this mess of a war will have started to suck its stable neighbors in. The costs of earlier inaction by the United States, at a time when a concerted blow might have made a difference, will have to be measured on a completely different scale.