The real goal of the Turkish operation in Syria
Turkish troops have launched a military operation against ISIS in Northern Syria. With the support of artillery and aviation an offensive has been launched on the city of Jarabulus located one kilometer from the Turkish-Syrian border. The stated goal is putting the border with Syria under Turkish control, ensuring the territorial integrity of Syria, and eliminating the terrorist threat.
Sources in the Turkish Defense Ministry have refuted information that Turkish regular troops are involved in fighting on Syrian territory. Turks provide support fire from the air, artillery, and by tanks units for the so-called Syrian opposition. However, everybody knows that the actions of certain paramilitary groups in this case are co-ordinated from Turkey. Arab media have reported the participation of Turkish tanks in the fighting in Syria.
The strategic objective of the operation is not merely the destruction of ISIS units. Earlier, Kurdish YPG formations supported by the US and its allies took control of the large city of Manbij 40 km south of Jarabulus. In the case of its seizure by the Kurds, they would take control of almost all the Turkish-Syrian border and unite with Kurdish forces near the town of Afrin in the West of Aleppo province. Turkey considers YPG a terrorist organization and has accused it of supporting the PKK and its own Kurdish separatists. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that the military operation is directed not only against the ISIS, but also the YPG.
The role of the US in these events is not completely clear. Turkish official statements refer to the forces involved in the operation as "the anti-terrorist coalition under US leadership." However, the United States itself is silent on their involvement. Coalition forces also means Turkish troops, in particular aviation units located at the air base of Incirlik. On the one hand, the United States has no choice but to support the operation against the ISIS, especially given the pressure tools available to Turkey such as the Incirlik air base and its participation in NATO. On the other hand, the Kurds are the main force which the Americans use in the region. Most likely, if the Turkish operation gains formal American support, then this would be purely symbolic. US Vice President Joe Biden is on an official visit to Turkey today, where he will have to somehow respond to the actions of Turkish authorities. He cannot openly criticize the Turks because such could affect negotiations on the vital issue of Turkish participation in NATO.
The Turkish operation is being carried out with the tacit approval of Russia. After the meeting between Putin and Erdogan in St. Petersburg on August 9th, 2016, the parties agreed to coordinate fighting in Syria. Russia understands Turkey's interests in the Turkomen-populated Northern areas of the country as they are similar to Russia's interests in Russian-populated Eastern Ukraine.