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Turkish Offensive in Syria

  Jun 13, 2020

Turkish Offensive in Syria

Who are the Kurds?

Kurds make up the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East, but they have never obtained a permanent nation state. Between 25 and 35 million Kurds inhabit a mountainous region straddling the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia. 

They inhabit south-eastern Turkey, north-eastern Syria, northern Iraq, north-western Iran and south-western Armenia. Today, they form a distinctive community, united through race, culture and language. Majority are Sunni Muslims.

Why are Kurds fighting Islamic State(IS)?

Since 2013, the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) set its sights on three Kurdish enclaves that bordered territory under its control in northern Syria. They were repelled by the People's Protection Units (YPG) - the armed wing of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).

An IS advance in northern Iraq also drew that country's Kurdish Peshmerga forces into the conflict.  

The Kurds - fighting alongside several local Arab militias under the banner of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, and helped by US-led coalition air strikes, weapons and advisers - then steadily drove IS out of tens of thousands of square kilometres of territory in north-eastern Syria and established control over a large stretch of the border with Turkey.

In 2017, SDF fighters captured the de facto IS capital of Raqqa in Syria.

Why is Turkey worried about Syria's Kurds?

It feels threatened by the People's Protection Units (YPG), the military wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) fighting for Kurdistan within Turkey.

The Turkish government insists the YPG is an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has fought for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey 1984 and is designated as a terrorist group by the US and EU. 

Despite being a member of NATO and the US-led coalition against IS, Turkey opposed the support the US gave the SDF.

In October, Turkey started a unilateral operation to set up a "safe zone". Mr Trump ordered US troops to pull back from the area.

What was the aim of Turkey's offensive?

"Operation Peace Spring" aimed to "neutralize terror threats against Turkey and lead to the establishment of a safe zone, facilitating the return of Syrian refugees to their homes".

What was the human cost?

Many died and many more were displaced including children.

How did the offensive end?

After four days of fighting, the US began a full withdrawal from northern Syria and the Kurds agreed a deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government for the Syrian army to deploy along the northern border for the first time in years to confront the Turkish-led forces. Russia, Mr Assad's staunch ally, sent military police to key locations. US persuaded Mr Erdogan to "pause" Turkey's offensive to allow it to "facilitate the withdrawal of YPG forces from the Turkish-controlled safe zone". 

What was India’s reaction?

India had said it was "deeply concerned" over the "unilateral military offensive" by Turkey in Northeastern Syria and asserted that the action can undermine stability in the region as well as the fight against terrorism.  

Is it connected to the killing of leader of the Islamic State group (IS), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by US special forces in Syria?

The withdrawal of US forces may be a diversionary tactic while looking for killing Baghdadi. 

What is the impact of Baghdadi’s death?

The killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi does not mean the automatic end of IS. Baghdadi was a powerful tool for IS, especially at a time when the organisation was planning to establish a so-called state. Despite the military defeat of IS in Syria and Iraq, its supporters still saw in the presence of Baghdadi hope of restoring the caliphate one day.