Turkey-Syria Tensions Expected to Rise after Airstrikes in Northern Syria

Air raids instigated by the Turkish military outside the Syrian border city of Jarablus killed as many as 40 civilians at dawn on Sunday. This operation marked the fifth day of the campaign in which the Turkish military plans to extend their power further into Northern Syria.

These Turkish attacks came after intense clashes between groups associated with YPG (the militant arm of the Syrian Kurdish Party), and rebel groups that are backed by Turkey. In addition, a Turkish soldier was killed the previous day by a YPG rocket attack on a tank. This was the first Turkish death of the campaign.

Sunday’s air strikes were carried out on the villages Jeb el-Kussa and al-Armaneh, south of Jarablus. Turkey stated that measures had been taken to avoid a large civilian death toll; however, as many as 40 civilian deaths have been reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). This number has been stated as 70 by local Kurdish administrators. The village of Jeb el-Kussa, 8 kilometres south of Jarablus, was captured by Turkish allies and bombardment of the site resulted in 20 deaths and 50 severely injured. Al-Armaneh, a further 6 kilometres south, saw 20 deaths and 25 wounded in similar attacks. The Turkish military has also reported that 5 buildings occupied by Kurdish militants were destroyed.

Earlier in the week, the city of Jarablus was seized by Turkey after being employed as a border stronghold by ISIS. The cross-border operation saw Turkish deployment of tanks and artillery for use against the Islamic State with the later intention of use against the Kurdish forces. Since eradicating ISIS from Jarablus, Turkey’s attention has moved towards ensuring minimal Kurdish presence along the northern Syrian border. Most villages in this region are controlled by Kurdish forces and groups allied with YPG, which Turkey sees as a threat to its national security.

Turkey has openly claimed that this week’s attacks have been as much an offensive against Kurdish forces as against the Islamic State. Ankara regards YPG and its allies as “terrorists” despite proving themselves as one of the most effective forces against ISIS; however, demands by the US and Turkey requiring Kurdish forces to stay on the east bank of the Euphrates River have not been satisfied and YPG has been met with criticism internationally. YPG has refused to vacate the region and as a result, tensions are expected to rise with Turkey.