As the latest round of Turkish air strikes continue, launched against North and East Syria and northern Iraq since 19 November, Turkish officials told Reuters on Monday that a new ground operation is about to begin into the region. But, the Turkish government has been conducting military operations into Syria since 2016. The ‘Claw’ series of operations against Kurdish fighters, including the Turkish Armed Forces’ recent air strikes, began in 2019.
After the ground offensive dubbed Euphrates Shield Operation was launched against Kurdish groups in August 2016, then came the Olive Branch Operation in January 2018. By March 2018, Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies had driven the Kurdish-led autonomous administration out of Afrin, northwest Syria.
Operation Olive Branch was followed by Operation Peace Spring in October 2019, and Operation Spring Shield, in February 2020.
With the onset of Turkey’s latest cross-border attacks, statements made by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2019 regarding offensives against North and East Syria, are once again relevant.
On the second day of Operation Peace Spring in October 2019, Erdoğan threatened the European Union with sending 3.6 million refugees to Europe if they opposed Turkey’s military operations against Syria.
Erdoğan told state run television channel TRT in October 2019 that Turkey’s aim was to “keep accumulation under control, to prepare a controlled life” in the Kurdish regions in North and East Syria, adding, “The Arabs are the most suitable there. Kurdish lifestyle is not suitable for these places.”
Referencing oils wells in the Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa regions, Erdoğan said, “Here, of course, America has its own plans. With who? With the regime, of course. Same goes for Russia,” he said.
For Erdoğan to be able to send troops to Iraq and Syria, first the parliament must approve, with a vote in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. The motion to send troops to Syria was first issued a year after the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011. This was extended and a new memorandum issued in 2014, and extended for another two years as of October 2021.
Turkey argues that the recent air and ground operations are within the scope of the right of self-defence, under Article 51 of the United Nations Convention. International law experts and human rights groups, on the other hand, state that Turkey violates international law in its cross-border wars.