The New York Times reports: In recent years, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered plans drawn up for a Turkish military incursion into Syria. At every turn, though, military commanders, already fighting a war inside Turkey against Kurdish militants, pushed back.
And then last month a rebel faction of the military tried to stage a coup, and that changed everything.
In the aftermath of the coup, which failed but claimed more than 200 lives, Mr. Erdogan purged thousands of officers from the ranks, leaving the military seemingly depleted. It also provoked worry from Western allies, including the United States, that Turkey would either be unwilling or unable to be a reliable partner in the fight against the Islamic State.
Instead, the opposite happened on Wednesday, as Mr. Erdogan ordered Turkish tanks and special forces soldiers into Syria, under cover of American and Turkish warplanes, to assist Syrian rebels in seizing the city of Jarabulus, one of the last border strongholds of the Islamic State.
More Turkish tanks rumbled into northern Syria on Thursday to support rebels there, and the Turkish military seemed to be succeeding in clearing the border area of Islamic State militants, and preventing Kurdish militias from seizing more territory in the region — a primary goal of Turkey in the campaign.
The operation, coming so soon after the failed coup, has highlighted how Mr. Erdogan, even after the purge, secured more operational control of the military. It allowed him to undertake Turkey’s most ambitious role yet in the long Syrian civil war and to bolster the flagging fortunes of rebel groups, of which Turkey has been one of the most consistent supporters.
Other factors holding back Turkey’s ambitions in Syria were also recently resolved. A feud with Russia, which began last year after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane near the border, ended after Mr. Erdogan expressed regret for the episode. After Ankara’s relations with Moscow deteriorated, a Turkish incursion into Syria could have risked war with Russia, which has been bombing rebels in support of the Syrian government. And the United States, which had previously been opposed to Turkey’s intervention, agreed to support it.
The operation also buoyed the hopes of armed opposition groups that are not affiliated with the Islamic State or Al Qaeda, whose fighters and supporters have been dejected for months over losses in northern Syria that their foreign backers did little to prevent, and a fear that the United States and Turkey were preparing to abandon them to pursue of a broader deal with the Russians.
A senior Turkish official, who spoke anonymously as a matter of protocol, said that many commanders had resisted an operation in Syria in recent years. [Continue reading…]