04:22 GMT +323 November 2019
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    Turkish soldiers stand in a Turkish army tank driving back to Turkey from the Syrian-Turkish border town of Jarabulus on September 2, 2016 in the Turkish-Syrian border town of Karkamis.

    Turkish Push to Secure Syrian Border by Summer 2017

    © AFP 2019 / Bulent Kilic
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    Turkey aims to fully secure its borders before summer 2017, according to Turkey's Defense Minister Fikri Isik. Turkish-backed forces are pursuing a campaign to clear Daesh and Kurdish fighters from northern Syria. However, Turkey won't have the support of the US military, which this week withdrew its backing of Turkish ground troops in Syria.

    Turkey shares a 900-kilometer (559 miles) border with Syria, which has been embroiled in a bloody civil war since 2011.

    The Turkish Armed Forces are trying to boost security on the Turkish side of the border, by constructing concrete walls to stop illegal crossings. On the Syrian side, they are pressing ahead militarily with coalition air forces, through Operation Euphrates Shield, which has other NATO members' support.

    Defense Minister Fikri Isik, told the Turkish parliament on Thursday, November 17:

    "It is expected that the full security of our borders will be established in the first half of 2017."

    He said a key priority was to "cleanse" areas, including the city of al-Bab, from Daesh militants.

    Al-Bab is strategically important to Turkey because Kurdish-dominated militias have also been pursuing a drive to seize it.

    Ankara fears that such Kurdish forces could use land gains to help bolster their claim for a separate homeland, autonomous from Turkish control.

    Al-Bab is also just 20 miles south of the Turkey-Syria border and serves as an important smuggling point for fighters and supplies bound for Raqqa, Daesh's self-proclaimed capital, roughly 125 miles to the east.

    However, Turkish military ambitions have been stunted this week, with the news that the US military has withdrawn their support for Turkish ground troops in Syria.

    A spokesman for US forces in Iraq and Syria, Air Force Colonel John Dorrian, said on Wednesday, November 16, that no airstrikes or US special operations advisers will assist the Turkish military's operation in al-Bab.

    "We've not supported the advance to al-Bab thus far," said Air Force Colonel Dorrian.

    "This is a decision they've made to go into al-Bab, but it's not one that the coalition has provided strikes in support of. They've not yet moved into al-Bab and taken the city, but they are very, very close, encountering some pretty tough resistance. They do expect to be able to power through that."

    NATO member Turkey has had their own tanks, warplanes and artillery in action in Syria, since August.

    As well as their own ground troops, Turkey is backing mostly Arab and Syrian Turkmen rebels in a bid to seize territory from Daesh fighters.

    However, what has continued to hamper the Turkish forces, is the aggressive purge of the country's military following the failed coup attempt of July 15, this year.

    The Turkish Air Force, in particular, has faced a severe crackdown as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sought to oust his detractors. At least 300 officers have been sacked, leading to the grounding of five squadrons of F-16 fighters.

    Turkey's Defense Minister Fikri Isik acknowledged that the Turkish Armed Forces will need to recruit more than 30,000 new personnel, some of them students, over the next four years to replenish their ranks.

    However, the purge shows no sign of abating thus far. This pressure, together with the US withdrawal of military support for the Turkish al-Bab campaign, may make Turkey's pledge to secure it's borders in 2017, hard to achieve.

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    Tags:
    US Forces, Syrian crisis, military operation in Syria, US-led coalition, Kurdish fighters, military, conflict, NATO, Daesh, US military, Fikri Isık, al-Bab, Turkey, Syria, United States, Middle East, Ankara
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