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    Turkish soldiers patrol on a road near the Turkey-Iraq border in the mainly Kurdish southeastern province of Sirnak (File)

    Storm on the Horizon: Is A Turkish 'Ground Invasion' of Syria Looming?

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    Various reports indicate that Ankara could soon (if it has not already) launch a ground operation in neighboring Syria, which, some say, will target Daesh fighters, but many fear that it will instead be focused on the Kurds – one of the main forces trying to defeat the brutal group.

    Turkey, which has long been criticized for doing too little to tackle Daesh, is reportedly planning to create a buffer zone on its border with Syria, Stratfor reported on Tuesday. These efforts could already be underway – Turkish forces have started to clear mines along the border near the Syrian town of Jarabulus, which is currently controlled by Daesh.

    "Turkey has already begun to ramp up its artillery strikes along its border with Syria to help its rebel allies and to destroy Islamic State targets. This could indicate an effort to soften enemy defenses ahead of a Turkish ground incursion once minesweeping operations have been completed," the Texas-based think tank explained.

    On Wednesday, reports emerged that Turkish forces had in fact crossed into Syria near Jarabulus. Anonymous security sources in Turkey later denied that it happened. 

    ​Ankara's ground operation – if launched – could deal a blow to Daesh. But many experts and politicians have pointed out that Turkey views dealing with the Kurds, not the terrorist group, as its key priority. The offensive then "would also strengthen the [Turkey-backed] rebels in northern Syria, in turn preventing the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) from expanding their reach westward," Stratfor noted.

    In addition, Ankara has carried out a major operation against the Kurds living in Turkey since the peace process between Turkish authorities and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) collapsed last year. The crackdown, which has claimed hundreds of lives, has increasingly been referred to as a civil war. More than 2,000 scholars from Turkey and beyond branded it a massacre in an open letter, which was published last week. 

    A combination picture taken from video shows a war plane crashing in flames in a mountainous area in northern Syria after it was shot down by Turkish fighter jets near the Turkish-Syrian border November 24, 2015
    © REUTERS/ Reuters TV/Haberturk
    A combination picture taken from video shows a war plane crashing in flames in a mountainous area in northern Syria after it was shot down by Turkish fighter jets near the Turkish-Syrian border November 24, 2015

    Turkey's ground offensive will likely add additional stress to the already strained relations between Ankara and Moscow. The two countries have seen their ties deteriorate after a Turkish fighter jet shot down a Russian bomber over Syrian territory, citing airspace violations that, according to Russian officials and the pilot, did not took place. The Su-24 was on an anti-Daesh mission in northern Syria when it was downed.

    "Still, that does not mean that Ankara, with Washington's help, is not trying to reach an understanding with Moscow, at least in terms of setting up deconfliction procedures to avoid clashing with each other in the Syrian warzone, which is rapidly becoming crowded," the think-tank assumed.

    As an alternative to a ground offensive, Ankara could seal the border with Syria, which terrorists have used to smuggle oil, supplies and fighters in and out of the warzone.

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    Tags:
    Turkish Kurds, Russian aerial campaign, ground military operation, Kurds, military operation, Syrian conflict, Daesh, Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), Jarablus, Turkey, Syria, Russia
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