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How Turkey's 'Peace Spring' changed the dynamics of Syria's war

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16.10.2019

After months of pressuring, lobbying and amassing troops along the border with Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan finally succeeded in securing the approval of US President Donald Trump for a military operation in northeast Syria. Operation "Peace Spring" is the third major Turkish military operation inside the country since 2016. The scope and depth of the operation are still unknown, but it is likely to change the dynamics of the Syrian conflict in a major way.

Since 2012, Erdogan has been trying to establish a "safe zone" along the section of Turkey's border with Syria that falls to the east of the Euphrates River.

The Syrian opposition succeeded in pushing the forces of the Syrian regime out of the country's northeast in the summer of 2012, allowing the People's Protection Units, known by its Kurdish acronym YPG, to take control. Turkey says the YPG is the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which it classifies as a terrorist organisation.

Before 2016, Erdogan's plans to intervene militarily in Syria were opposed by both the Obama administration and the Turkish military, which the president did not yet have complete control over. Erdogan, as a result, declined to participate in the US-led war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), declared by Obama following the fall of Mosul, in the summer of 2014.

The United States was not, therefore, allowed to use the Incirlik airbase in the south of Turkey in the war against ISIL. It had, instead, to rely on bases further afield, such as al-Udiad in Qatar and Riffa in Bahrain. Meanwhile, the US shunned an offer by Turkey to arm and train Syrian opposition factions to confront ISIL and opted instead to use the YPG as a local proxy against ISIL.

To conceal the Kurdish identity of the US's chosen proxy in Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which includes fighters from non-Kurdish groups, was established in 2015. The SDF was trained and armed by the US military.

When Turkey eventually decided to change course and allow the US to use its territories in the fight against ISIL in the summer of 2015, it was too late. By then, Russia had entered the fray on the side of the Syrian regime, changing the dynamics of Syria's conflict completely. This meant Turkey was now participating in a conflict entirely different from the one it was offered a role in a few years earlier. The change in circumstances was demonstrated clearly in November 2015, when Turkey shot down a Russian........

© Al Jazeera