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The operation "Peace Spring" - its cause and aftermath

After the operation "Olive Branch," Turkey has just continued conducting another military operation called "Peace Spring" to attack Northern Syria. So, why did Ankara decide to attack this area? What is its aftermath?

On October 9, 2019, Turkish troops cooperated with the self-proclaimed Syrian National Army in launching the "Peace Spring" on a large scale, with the participation of the air, artillery, missile and "special task" forces targeting the Kurdish-led areas in Northern Syria. With the absolute superiority in combat ability and especially their cutting-edge weapons systems and equipment, the Turkish army annihilated hundreds of Kurdish fighters in a short time, occupied many strategic cities and arterial roads in Northern Syria. After more than a week of fierce fighting, on October 17, 2019, the U.S. and Turkey reached a ceasefire agreement within 120 hours for the Kurdish forces to move away from the "Buffer Zone" that Ankara had set up in Syria. In this agreement, the U.S. did not impose any additional provision; it even lifted all economic sanctions on Turkey. In addition to the ceasefire agreement with the U.S., on October 23, 2019, Turkey continued to reach the "Agreement on Syria" with Russia; therefore, it declared that it would be "unnecessary" to restart the Operation "Peace Spring." However, Ankara also confirmed that they would be ready to resume military offensives if the U.S did not urge the Kurdish armed groups to withdraw all troops from the "Buffer Zone." According to foreign sources of information, after announcing the "ceasefire," the U.S. informed Turkey that Kurdish fighters had completed their withdrawal from the border area; Russian and Turkish military police units began joint patrols in the "Buffer Zone" under the agreement between the two sides. However, on November 8, 2019, the Turkish President announced that the country’s army would not leave Syria before the Kurdish forces completely withdrew from the border area.

Why did Turkey invade Northern Syria?

In the past and at present, the Kurds and other ethnic groups live in many parts of the world, but they settle mainly in mountainous areas stretching out from southeastern Turkey to western Iran, northern Syria and northern Iraq. In Turkey, the Kurds make up nearly 20% of the country’s population and have founded the Kurdistan Workers' Party (aka PKK) which has an important influence on the establishment and leadership of the units responsible for protecting the Kurdish communities in Syria. In 1984, a conflict between the Turkish troops and the PKK-led armed groups broke out in many parts of the country as the PKK demanded "independence." In 2013, the Ankara authority and the PKK had reached a peace agreement; however, it was broken two years later because Ankara accused the PKK of "breaking promise." Over the past three decades, the conflicts between the Turkish troops and the armed groups under the PKK’s leadership have claimed tens of thousands of civilian and military lives from the two sides, simultaneously causing "flashpoints" and pains for the government and its people.

In Syria, the Kurds have established many political organisations, with the Democratic Union Party as the largest one. In 2011, taking advantage of the outbreak of the conflict, the armed forces of the Democratic Union Party in the name of fighting against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, with advice and financial and military support from the U.S., occupied a large area in Northern Syria. In this area, the Democratic Union Party established its own government and armed forces. Several military experts said that the goal of this Party was to link Kurdish groups with one another across the country to establish an "independent nation" based on the doctrine called "Democratic Unionism" by the founder and leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan - who has been imprisoned by Turkey since 1999.

The Turkish government has repeatedly protested the existence of a "Kurdish independent nation" in Northern Syria as they believed that it would encourage combatants of the PKK in the country to join the Kurdish forces in Syria in realising the goal of establishing an independent nation. Ankara's policymakers also said that the "Kurdish independent nation" in Northern Syria could create a "terror corridor" that would directly threaten security along Turkey’s southern border. Turkish President Erdogan asserted that Turkey would "never allow the establishment of a Kurdish state in Northern Syria." There is a fact that Turkey has 3 million Syrian refugees of Arabic origin, which also has a significant impact on the country’s security, political, and socio-economic situation.

According to international analysts, to find the solution to this "conundrum," Ankara's pursued a strategic policy of establishing the so-called "Buffer Zone" in Northern Syria by all means, despite international outrage and  sanctions, even confrontation with the U.S. Ankara's strategic planners pointed out that the "buffer zone" in Northern Syria is an urgent and strategic demand for this country’s security and stability in order to achieve the dual goal of preventing the establishment of Kurdish state in Northern Syria and protecting the southern border’s security and safety. In addition, this is an ideal place for Ankara to move millions of Syrians of Arabic origin to settle and live in. In fact, in order to fulfil this goal, Turkey has conducted three military operations: "Shah Euphrates" in 2016, "Olive Branch" in 2018 and most recently "Peace Spring." Military experts in many countries said that, in the three operations mentioned above, the biggest difference which made the success of the operation "Peace Spring" is that it was conducted at the "one-in-a-lifetime moment," a few days after the US President had announced the withdrawal of American military forces after their five-year presence in Northern Syria. In the two previous operations, Turkey had not achieved the goals as it had been forced to stop under the pressure from the international community, especially from the U.S.; however, in the operation "Peace Spring," it quickly reached the strategic goal of setting up a "buffer zone" with a length of about 440 km and a depth of more than 30 km in Northern Syria.

The aftermath of the operation "Peace Spring"

Although it won victory "as expected," the Turkish government also had to "pay dearly" for the attack on the Kurds in Northern Syria. It suffered from loss of soldiers while the war could still take place with more hatred being incited among the Kurds on both sides of the border between Syria and Turkey. After Ankara conducted the operation, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) convened an emergency meeting, expressed deep concern and demanded that Turkey should cease its military offensive in Northern Syria. A number of countries in the world strongly opposed the operation "Peace Spring" - a military offensive which was in the name of "anti-terrorism" and "remote defence", but in fact to cover up a blatant violation of Syria's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. President Bashar al-Assad denounced the operation as an act of "invasion," a serious violation of international law and the United Nations Charter. He requested that Turkey immediately halt all military offensives and withdraw all its forces from Syria. The operation has also “worsened” Turkey’s relations with the U.S. and NATO member states (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization). The US President called the operation "Peace Spring" a "bad idea" and Donald Trump threatened that if Ankara went beyond the "off-limits," the U.S. would "obliterate" Turkey's economy. The countries, namely Britain, France, and Germany, and NATO member states said that they would not support Turkey's military offensive and called it an "unfortunate" and "unacceptable" action, causing a negative impact on the war against the insurgent of the self-proclaimed Islamic State by the West. And, governments of these countries also announced that they would cut off arms export to Turkey. The League of Arab States also denounced the military operation of "Peace Spring" and called it a sign of powerism regardless of international morality and law. Turkey's invasion made the scene in Syria in particular, the Middle East in general more complicated. According to statistics of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRS), the operation "Peace Spring" caused a "humanitarian catastrophe" for Syria, leaving thousands of civilians dead and injured as well as hundreds of thousands of families scattered or homeless. International humanitarian organizations are taking "emergency" measures to provide relief and aid for victims of this attack. Many Arab States also warned that the operation "Peace Spring" deepened the conflict between the Kurds and the Turks. Many armed groups of the PKK have increased "jihadist" operations in Turkey as a retaliatory action against Ankara's attack on the Kurds in Northern Syria. In many countries around the world, the conflict between the Kurds and the Turks rapidly broke out. Governments of these countries warned that the operation "Peace Spring" was the reason for the increasing confrontation between pro-Turkish armed groups and fighters of the Democratic Union Party. To deal with Turkey, the Syrian Democratic Forces (which are against the government) had to ally themselves with the government of the Syrian President al-Assad. The authority of Damascus also decided to deploy two corps to Northern Syria, raising concerns about a conflict between the Syrian army and the Turkish troops in the border area, threatening security and stability in the region.

The scene in Syria has been inherently complicated, with the interweaving of various groups of interests and conflicts, especially since the White House decided to redeploy troops to Syria with the purpose of securing the oil exploitation facilities, thereby making the political "chessboard" in the Middle East more and more unpredictable. According to many military experts, relevant parties need to be acutely aware of the situation in Syria, act on the basis of respect for international law, the United Nations Charter, and Syria’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, persistently conduct negotiations for seeking the most appropriate solution to meet their interests as well as the Syrian people’s legitimate benefits, resolutely avoid threatening to use or using force to achieve their own goals. Only by doing so could they terminate the decades-long traumatic conflict and restore peace and stability for Syria's development.

Duc Minh - Tran Huu Trung

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