On Monday, 23 May, Turkish President Erdogan made threats of a new invasion into North and East Syria. Later specificing that while Til Rifaat and Manbij would be his initial targets, he intends to “do the same to other regions step-by-step.” Now, the world is waiting to see if he will make good on these threats, and if so when?
My question is – why are we waiting? Why does the international community withhold their condemnations of Turkey’s aggression and ignore ongoing violence until Turkey launches yet another full scale invasion? Since Operation Peace Spring, which began 9 October 2019, Turkey has consistently and continuously violated the ceasefire agreement. Since Erdogan made threats of a new incursion he has already escalated artillery attacks on the threatened regions. Why are we waiting for an attack, which is in fact already happening?
Violations of Ceasefire Agreement:
On 17 October 2019, Vice President of the U.S. at the time, Mike Pence, announced an agreement between the U.S. and Turkey involving a cease-fire provided that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) would withdraw from their positions along the northern border.
On October 22, Putin and Erdogan extended the ceasefire agreement, again demanding SDF withdrawal to the distance of 30 kilometres from the Syria-Turkey border. The following day joint Russian-Turkish patrols in North and East Syria began, as part of the agreement. On paper, the attacks are over, but the reality on the ground is very different.
Increased Attacks Following Erdogan’s Threats
After making threats of a new incursion Turkish officials have gone to both Russia and the US hoping for a green light for the invasion, only to be disappointed. At the beginning of June Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement saying:
“We hope that Ankara will refrain from actions that could lead to a dangerous deterioration of the already difficult situation in Syria.”
Biden and the US have also opposed Turkey’s plans to attack, claiming that it will further destabilize the region and give ISIS an opportunity to rise again.
Despite receiving no encouragement or ‘green-light’ from other international actors in the region, Erdogan remains determined, and continues to carry out drone strikes throughout North and East Syria.
According to SDF Press, in the first half of June 2022 alone, long after the cease-fire agreement, Turkey has shelled Ain Issa 324 times, and around Til Temir more than 150 times. These cities are directly outside of the ‘safe zone’ currently occupied by Turkey and their proxy forces, and have been targeted since the start of Operation Peace Spring.
Three more drone attacks were carried out at the end of June, including one near the city of Kobane, on 27 June which resulted in material damages. As well as two separate attacks on 28 June, one near Derik targeting two vehicles and one drone attack on a civilian home in Til Rifaat.
The Rojava Information Centre (RIC) says that so far in 2022, the most drone strikes have occurred in July with as many as 14 drone strikes, not including other forms of attacks such as shelling. Twelve deaths were recorded, and 11 injuries.
The RIC has reported five attacks already from the start of August until the ninth. These attacks resulted in fourteen people being injured and nine fatalities. Two of those killed were children, and five children were injured. The attacks in August have taken place around Tel Temir, Tel Rifaat, Qamishlo and Amude.
It is clear that Russia and the US have not managed to discourage Erdogan for continuing to relentlessly target North and East Syria, conversely shelling and drone strikes have continued and escalated.
It is vital the international community condemns Turkish aggression now:
In conclusion, it isn’t productive to speculate and wonder when a possible future Turkish invasion will begin. The attacks never stopped, and following Erdogan’s announcement of a future invasion drone attacks on the threatened areas have already increased. Attacks on North and East Syria have been and continue to be on-going. It is vital that the international community recognises this and condemns Turkish aggression now instead of waiting for a ‘full scale invasion’ which will only result in more displacement and more civilian casualties.
Robin Fleming is an American researcher who worked with the Rojava Information Centre, and focuses on North and East Syria.