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Spotlight: Turkish offensive against Kurdish militia in Syria sparks concern about Ankara's role in anti-IS fight
Last Updated: 2019-10-12 03:38 | Xinhua
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Amid the Turkish army's incursion into northeastern Syria to kick U.S.-backed Kurdish militia away from the border, the international pressure for the operation to be ended mounts as analysts are concerned about Ankara's role in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) militant group.

Breaking Washington's resistance following months-long negotiations, Turkey launched on Wednesday a ground offensive to create a safe zone on the Kurdish militia-held territory along its border.

The operation came after U.S. President Donald Trump unexpectedly withdrew American troops from the area following a phone call on Sunday with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The operation, dubbed "Peace Spring," has sparked widespread condemnation from around the world with only a few countries such as Pakistan and Qatar having offered support to Ankara so far.

While agreeing to stand aside, the United States said it does not endorse the operation against the Kurdish militia which is seen by Ankara as terrorists but an ally by Washington.

"Turkey has no political support (for its operation). We remain isolated," said Murat Bilhan, a former Turkish diplomat.

All analysts who spoke to Xinhua said the international pressure should be expected to mount and that Turkey may face political and economic sanctions from the United States, the EU and some Arab countries as the operation progresses.

The EU and Iran have called on Ankara to halt the operation, while leading Arab states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia as well as Israel condemned Turkey's military incursion.

France's European Affairs Minister Amelie de Montchalin said on Friday that the EU would discuss sanctions against Turkey at its summit next week.

"Increasing international pressure may even force Turkey to cut the operation short," said Cahit Armagan Dilek, a former staff officer in the Turkish military.

The ailing economy is a major weakness for Ankara, he noted.

The UN Security Council met on Thursday to discuss the operation at the request of France, Germany, Britain, Belgium and Poland. The United States and Russia reportedly rejected a proposal to jointly condemn Turkey.

However, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft warned that Ankara would face consequences if it fails to "play by the rules" to guarantee that the operation would not help the IS to reconstitute itself.

The Arab League, meanwhile, is scheduled to convene an emergency meeting of foreign ministers on Saturday over Turkey's offensive in Syria.

The analysts feel that Ankara would do better to establish dialogue with Damascus about its "rightful" security concerns.

"If this operation had been carried out in coordination with the Syrian government, Turkey would have been in a much stronger position to deal with international criticism," remarked Bilhan, vice chairman of the Istanbul-based Turkish Asian Center For Strategic Studies.

The Syrian government, with which Ankara refuses to have political ties, describes the Turkish military's presence on its soil as occupation and violation of international law.

Members of the U.S. Congress are pushing for a bill imposing heavy sanctions on Turkey, including those related with arms sale.

While referring to Turkey as a NATO ally and a big trade partner, Trump went so far as to threaten to economically destroy Turkey in case it would not remain within the boundaries apparently set by Washington regarding the operation.

"If Turkey does anything that I ... consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey," the U.S. president tweeted.

Many countries critical of Ankara's military operation expressed concern that it could deal a lethal blow to the fight against the IS.

The Kurdish militia, known as the People's Protection Units, has threatened to withdraw its members keeping guard over the IS prisoners.

The United States has made clear that it would hold Turkey responsible for the fight against the IS in Syria from now on, something the Turkish president tacitly accepted in his remarks earlier this week.

"Turkey MUST take over captured ISIS fighters that Europe refused to have returned," Trump tweeted, using another name of the IS.

"It looks as if tackling the remnants of the IS will be on our own head," said Hasan Koni, an international relations analyst.

Some 10,000-12,000 IS militants are estimated to be kept in over 20 prisons and detention camps in Kurdish militia-held territory.

Trump said on Thursday that he was hopeful for Washington to mediate between Turkey and the Kurdish militia, threatening tough sanctions against Ankara should it not toe the U.S. line.

The task of dealing with the IS, assigned by Washington to Ankara, is unavoidably pushing Turkey to a sort of cooperation with the Kurdish militia, noted Dilek.

Another 60,000 people, families of the IS fighters, are also believed to be held in camps in northeastern Syria.

"The IS may turn out to be a big headache for Turkey in the future," warned Dilek, director of the Ankara-based 21st Century Turkey Institute, as he referred to reports about Turkey being among the countries where jihadists are nested.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday that his country does not plan to advance any further than 30 km into Syrian territory and that Ankara cannot be held responsible for IS associates being held in camps outside of the planned safe zone.

Russia, which is Turkey's partner like Iran in the so-called Astana process aimed at finding a political solution to the Syrian war, said it understands Turkey's security concerns, while laying emphasis on Syria's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Turkey wants to resettle around 1-2 million of the Syrian refugees on its soil in the safe zone to be established following a huge construction project which it expects to be funded by the international community.

The analysts agreed, however, that Ankara's plan of resettling the Syrians in the safe zone is neither realistic nor feasible.

"It looks hardly possible for Ankara to find the millions of euros needed for such a huge construction project," stated Dilek.

The EU said it would not provide financial aid to the project, maintaining that local people's rights are being ignored by Ankara and that it is not much likely for the safe zone to meet the criteria required for the resettlement of Syrians.

Erdogan threatened to open the gates for the more than 3.6 million Syrians in Turkey to go to Europe if the EU would try to describe Turkey's operation as occupation.

Ankara has repeatedly said the operation is not being conducted against the Kurdish people but rather against a terrorist organization in accord with international law.

Both Koni and Dilek are skeptical that the West would accept the Turkish offensive to advance, as announced by Ankara, as deep as 30 km into the Kurdish-held territory.

"Because otherwise, Turkey would be very strong at the Syria table, something which the West cannot tolerate," Dilek said, noting it would mean a sort of victory for Ankara which has long demanded a 30-km-deep safe zone.

"If Turkey attempts to go further than 14 km into the Kurdish-held territory, the U.S. would say stop," argued Koni.

In a failed safe zone project jointly started in August by Ankara and Washington, the United States agreed, in a bid to dissuade Turkey from a cross-border operation, that the Kurdish forces would withdraw 14 km away from the Turkish border.

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Spotlight: Turkish offensive against Kurdish militia in Syria sparks concern about Ankara's role in anti-IS fight
Source:Xinhua | 2019-10-12 03:38
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