According to a political forecast of a Stratfor intelligence agency, Turkey plans to make military advancements into northern Syria.
President Erdogan’s policy is to strengthen his popularity and that of the AKP, Turkey’s ruling party, by becoming increasingly more assertive in foreign policy, according to Stratfor. The information gathering, distributing and forecasting business also predicts a more widening rift developing between Russia and a resurgent Turkey.
“This is the year when Turkey, nervous but more politically coherent than it was last year, will likely make a military move into northern Syria while trying to enlarge its footprint in northern Iraq,” the Texas-based think tank noted in its forecast for 2016.
The intelligence company maintains that Washington will likely “facilitate” Ankara’s predicted “heavy air campaign” in Syrian provinces bordering Turkey.
“Turkey will emphasize its intent to rely principally on Sunni Turkmen and Arab rebel proxies to clear and hold the Islamic State-infested territory, but Ankara will also have a contingency plan ready in case it needs to deploy ground forces,” the think tank noted.
This seems to indicate that the AKP is not planning to put Turkish boots on the ground right away, but at the same time this scenario should not be completely ruled out.
Ankara, according to Stratfor, “is already preparing for an operation west of the Euphrates River in northern Syria.” However, the intelligence company did not speculate with regard to when this operation is expected to be launched.
Ankara’s goal, according to the analysts, will be to “flush out” Daesh militants from the border regions. However, many doubt Turkey’s commitment to tackling the terrorist group and the like. Experts have accused Ankara of using radicals in its regional power play, which involves among other things an attempt to oust Bashar al-Assad.
It is doubtful that Ankara’s initiative will receive formal backing from the Syrian government, which will further strain relation between the two.
The predicted operation will also deepen tensions between Turkey and Russia, since the latter has been authorized to conduct a counterterrorism operation in Syria, including its northern regions. Keep in mind that in late November a Turkish fighter jet shot down a Russian bomber in this area.
This is not how Moscow wants the events to unfold.
“The last thing Russia wants is a confrontation with Turkey, the gatekeeper to the Black and Mediterranean seas, but confrontation is something it cannot avoid,” the think tank observed. “Neither Turkey nor Russia can afford a complete break in relations, but trade ties are bound to suffer while strategic energy projects are likely to experience further delays.”
In early December, Ankara made headlines when it sent more than 100 troops and military hardware, including tanks, to northern Iraq to allegedly train Kurdish fighters. The initiative was not given the green light by Baghdad, with Iraqi authorities calling the deployment a violation of sovereignty and urging Turkey to refrain from similar actions in the future.
Nevertheless, Ankara seems to be determined to proceed with its training missions. “Turkey will commit a limited number of troops to training operations for Sunni fighters in northern Iraq,” the think tank added.