Turkish involvement in the Syrian Civil War

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Turkish involvement in the Syrian Civil War
Part of the Syrian Civil War and War on ISIL
Syria and Iraq 2014-onward War map.png
Current military situation, as of 28 May 2015:
(For a clickable version of the map without shaded areas, see here for Syria and here for Iraq and here for both in one map)
Date 2011–present
(4 years)
Location Egypt, Golan Heights, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Turkey
Result Ongoing

Turkey, whose relations with Syria had been friendly over the last decade, condemned Assad over the violent crackdown in 2011 and requested his departure from office. Turkey trained defectors of the Syrian Army on its territory, and in July 2011, a group of them announced the birth of the Free Syrian Army, under the supervision of Turkish military intelligence.[1] In October 2011, Turkey began sheltering the Free Syrian Army, offering the group a safe zone and a base of operations. Together with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Turkey has also provided the rebels with arms and other military equipment. Tensions between Syria and Turkey significantly worsened after Syrian forces shot down a Turkish fighter jet in June 2012, and border clashes erupted in October 2012.[2]

Turkey provided refuge for Syrian dissidents. Syrian opposition activists convened in Istanbul in May to discuss regime change,[3] and Turkey hosts the head of the Free Syrian Army, Colonel Riad al-Asaad.[4] Turkey has become increasingly hostile to the Assad government's policies and has encouraged reconciliation among dissident factions. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been trying to "cultivate a favorable relationship with whatever government would take the place of Assad."[5] Beginning in May 2012, some Syrian opposition fighters began being armed and trained by the Turkish Intelligence.[6]

Turkey maintains a small enclave within Syria itself, the Tomb of Suleyman Shah on the right bank of the Euphrates in Aleppo Province near the village of Qarah Qawzak (Karakozak). The Tomb is guarded by a small permanent garrison of Turkish soldiers, who rotate in from a battalion based at the Turkish border some 25 kilometres (16 mi) away—even as the civil war unfolded around them.[7] Up until Syrian forces shot down a Turkish warplane in June 2012, the garrison numbered 15 men in total. Following the incident, the Turkish government doubled the number of soldiers stationed at the tomb to 30, while then-Prime Minister Erdoğan warned that "the tomb of Suleyman Shah and the land that surrounds it are Turkish territory. Any act of aggression against it would be an attack on our territory and NATO territory." Analysts have cited the Tomb as a potential future flashpoint in Turkish-Syrian relations.[8]

Early invasion plans[edit]

On March 27, 2014 an audio tape recording of high-level Turkish officials discussing Turkey's Syria strategy was released on YouTube.[9] The officials discussed a false flag operation that would lead to an invasion of Syria. YouTube was subsequently blocked in Turkey.

The vote in Parliament[edit]

A vote in the Turkish parliament was scheduled for October 1 on whether or not to invade Syria as part of the war on ISIL.[10] while preparations for a possible invasion were made.[11] It was later delayed a day.

The de facto "declaration of war" is to take the form of two separate motions—one on Iraq and one on Syria, which would authorize Turkish troops to invade those countries.[12] the opposition said they hadn't been able to read either motion, as the exact text had been delayed.

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said that the gist of the resolutions was to extend the current mandate for "hot pursuit" against the PKK and Syrian Army into Syria and Iraq, which was to end the second week in October, and to add ISIS to the list and set up a buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border.[13]

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan opened the parliamentary session by saying that Turkey would fight against so called Islamic State and other "terrorist" groups in the region but it would stick to its aim of seeing Bashar al-Assad removed from power.[14]

After two days of heated debate, the motion passed 298-98,[15]

Turkey and Syria[edit]

Syrian-Turkish border incidents
Part of the Spillover of the Syrian Civil War
Date 5 December 2011 – present
(3 years, 5 months, 4 weeks and 1 day)
Location Border areas between Syria and Turkey
Result

Ongoing

  • Increased tensions between the two countries
Belligerents
Turkey Turkey Syria Syria
Commanders and leaders
Turkey Recep Erdoğan
Turkey Ahmet Davutoğlu
Syria Bashar al-Assad
Syria Wael Nader Al-Halqi
Casualties and losses
1 border guard killed
2 pilots killed
1 F-4 Phantom shot down
12–14 killed
25 wounded
1 Mi-17 shot down
1 MiG-23 shot down
1 Mohajer 4 UAV shot down
3 Syrian rebels killed and several wounded
19-22 Turkish civilians killed and 43 wounded
10 Syrian civilians killed and 15 wounded

Numerous incidents along the Syrian–Turkish border have taken place during the Syrian Civil War, straining the relations between the countries. Dozens were killed, both among civilians and military personnel. Following Syria's downing of a Turkish jet in 2012, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan changed the military's rules of engagement so that any Syrian element approaching the border would be deemed a threat and be treated as a military target.[16] Turkey has bolstered its defenses and deployed additional troops on its border with Syria in mid to late September 2013, with convoys of military vehicles ferrying equipment and personnel and additional short range air defenses set up.[16]

December 2011 incidents[edit]

During the 5 December 2011 night, about 35 armed fighters tried to cross the border of Syria from Turkey, but were engaged immediately by the Syrian border forces who inflicted several wounds to them and were able to repel them back to Turkey. Once they were back on Turkish soil, the Turkish army allegedly picked them up in trucks and took care of the injured fighters. A further attempt happened during the night of 12 December, when 15 infiltrators tried again to cross the border. They were unsuccessful and two of them were killed by Syrian border patrols.

June 2012 F4 jet incident[edit]

On 22 June 2012, Syrian air defenses shot down a Turkish F-4 Phantom fighter jet,[17] and both pilots were killed.[18] The incident significantly raised tensions between the two countries.[2][19] Syria stated that it had shot the fighter down using anti-aircraft artillery near the village of Om al-Tuyour, while it was flying over Syrian territorial waters one kilometer away from land.[20] Turkey's foreign minister stated the jet was shot down in international airspace after accidentally entering Syrian airspace, while it was on a training flight to test Turkey's radar capabilities.[21] Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed retaliation, saying: "The rules of engagement of the Turkish Armed Forces have changed ... Turkey will support Syrian people in every way until they get rid of the bloody dictator and his gang."[22] Ankara acknowledged that the jet had flown over Syria for a short time, but they said such temporary overflights were common, had not led to an attack before, and alleged that Syrian helicopters had violated Turkish airspace five times without being attacked and that a second, search-and-rescue jet had been fired at.[22] Assad later expressed regret over the incident.[23] In August 2012, reports appeared in some Turkish newspapers claiming that the Turkish General Staff had deliberately misinformed the Turkish government about the fighter's location when it was shot down. The reports said that a NATO command post at Izmir and a British base in Cyprus had confirmed that the fighter was shot down inside Syrian waters and that radar intelligence from U.S. forces had disproved any "accidentally entered Syrian waters" flightpath error. The General Staff denied the claims.[24]

October 2012 cross-border clashes[edit]

Tensions were further raised later that year when Syrian mortar rounds began landing in Turkish territory. On 3 October, a Syrian mortar shell hit the Turkish town of Akçakale, killing 5 civilians.[25] Turkey responded by shelling Syrian army positions along the border.[26] Throughout October, Syrian mortar shells repeatedly landed in Turkish territory, and the Turkish military launched retaliatory artillery and mortar strikes, firing into Syria a total of 87 times. These attacks reportedly killed 12 Syrian soldiers and destroyed several tanks.[27]

January 2013 incident[edit]

In the early hours of 14 January 2013, a shell fired by unknown Syrian forces landed in an olive grove near the border village of Akçabağlar, causing no casualties.[28] On January 30, Syrian El Muhaberat agents tried to cross the border between Turkey and Syria but were turned back under fire by Turkish forces.

February 2013 bombing[edit]

On 11 February 2013, a bomb exploded at the Turkısh-Syrian border crossing in Cilvegözü, killing 14.[29] According to BBC, the deadly attack killed 17 people and injured 30 more.[30]

April 2013 border air raid[edit]

On April 30, 2013, according to Syrian opposition activists, the Syrian air force raided the headquarters of a rebel camp on Syrian-Turkish border, killing 5.[31] Activists told Hurriyet Daily News that the air attack was made on headquarters of a Salafist group Ahrar al-Sham. A Turkish aid worker said the air strike also hit a warehouse on the Syrian side of the border used by aid groups. Another Syrian activist at Bab al-Hawa said people waiting to cross the Syrian-Turkish border were among those hit. He added that at least 15 wounded were taken to hospital near the crossing on the Syrian side and among the dead were a one-and-a-half-year-old child and two teenage girls. Some Syrian activists said some of the casualties were suffering breathing difficulties but said they did not know what type of munitions had been used in the attack. "We cannot confirm that there were any chemical weapons involved," Reyhanli mayor Huseyin Sanverdi told Reuters.

May 2013 Akcakale incident[edit]

On 2 May 2013, fighting occurred between Syrian anti-government insurgents and Turkish border guards at the Akcakale border crossing. One Turkish border guard was killed in the engagement, reportedly the first armed clashes between Turkish government agents and anti-Assad militants.[32]

2013 helicopter incident[edit]

On September 16, 2013, Turkish jets shot down a Syrian helicopter on the Syrian-Turkish border.[16] According to Turkish official statement, Turkish warplanes made the intercept after a Syrian Mi-17 helicopter had crossed into Turkish airspace and the government warned it had taken all necessary measures to defend itself against any further such violations. Syrian army acknowledged the helicopter had strayed into Turkish airspace for a short time, while monitoring "terrorists" moving across the border into Syria, but said it was an accident and that the aircraft was on its way back when it was shot down.[16]

January 2014 incident on the Syrian Kurdistan border[edit]

Five Syrian Kurds were killed while crossing borders into Turkey on January 20, 2014.[33] Zahir Mulla and Muhammad Ahmad were killed along with other three men (whose identities couldn't be identified), when Turkish border guards opened fire. {{Citation needed}}

March 2014 Turkish shootdown of a Syrian aircraft[edit]

On 23 March 2014, Turkish fighter jets shot down a Syrian MiG-23. The Syrian Arab Republic claims that its aircraft was in Syrian airspace on a mission to attack rebel held areas in the city of Latakia when it was shot down by Turkey in an act of "blatant aggression." The Syrian pilot successfully ejected from the aircraft as the aircraft was being shot down.[34] Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan stated that Turkish F-16s shot down the aircraft for violating Turkish airspace and said that the Turkish "response will be heavy if you violate our airspace."[35]

May 2015 Turkish shootdown of a Syrian UAV[edit]

On 16 May 2015, a Turkish Air Force F-16 shot down an Iranian made Mohajer 4 UAV that had violated Turkish airspace over Hatay province entering 11 km into Turkish airspace. The UAV was downed with two missiles. Initial claims by the Turkish government mentioned an intruding helicopter was shot down, but later it was admitted that the downed aircraft was an UAV as claimed by the Syrian side.[36][37]

Turkey and ISIL[edit]

Turkey-ISIL conflict
Part of the Spillover of the Syrian Civil War and Military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Location Syria & Turkey
Result Ongoing
Belligerents
Turkey Turkey Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant ISIL
Commanders and leaders
Turkey Recep Erdoğan
Turkey Ahmet Davutoğlu
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
Casualties and losses
2 police killed
2 soldier killed
51+ Turkish civilians killed and 140+ wounded

During much of the Syrian Civil War, the Turkish government has allowed the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL; also called ISIS) army to use the "jihadi highway."[38][39] just inside the Turkish side of the Syrian border. While there were a few incidents, detailed below, relations between Turkey and ISIL remained cordial.

May 2013 border bombing[edit]

On 11 May 2013, two car bombs exploded in the town of Reyhanlı, Hatay Province, Turkey. At least 51 people were killed and 140 injured in the attack.[40] The attack was the deadliest single act of terrorism to occur on Turkish soil.[41][42]

In response to the attacks, the Turkish government sent large numbers of air and ground forces to increase the already heavy military presence in the area.[43]

By 12 May 2013, nine Turkish citizens, alleged to have links to the Syrian intelligence agency, had been detained.[44] On 21 May 2013, the Turkish authorities charged the prime suspect, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported. Four other suspects were also charged. 12 people had been charged in total. All suspects were Turkish nationals that Ankara believed were backed by the Syrian government.[45]

On 30 September 2013, some websites claimed that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL; also ISIS), operating in Iraq and Syria, accepted responsibility for the attack, threatening further attacks against Turkey.[46][47][48][49][50][51] In January 2014, Turkey launched an airstrike on ISIL bases in Syria.

January 2014 Turkish airstrike[edit]

On 28 January 2014, the Turkish air force performed an airstrike on Syrian territory, allegedly aiming to hit ISIS convoy inside Syria.[52] According to Turkish General staff, a pickup, a truck and a bus in an ISIL convoy were destroyed”.[52] Turkish officials also said the January 28 attack was meant to retaliate for ISIL fire on the Turkish Army along the Syrian border. They also cited ISIL raids on ethnic Turkish communities in northern Syria, which sparked an exodus of thousands to Turkey. The Turkish attack came amid threats by ISIL to expand operations into Turkey - a NATO state.[52]

March 2014 Ulukışla shooting[edit]

On 20 March, while security forces were conducting routine checks on the Ulukisla-Adana expressway, three foreigners emerging from a taxi opened fire with an AK-47 (some reports say Glock automatics) and lobbed a hand grenade, killing a soldier and a policeman, and wounding five soldiers. The attackers were wounded in return fire, but got away in a van they commandeered for their escape. Two of the attackers who spoke Arabic and English were apprehended at Eminlik village, where villagers, thinking they were wounded Syrians, took them to the local medical clinic. Later the attackers were identified as ISIL operators by Turkish media, and travelled from an ISIL controlled area of Syria.[53]

June 2014 Mosul consulate hostage crisis[edit]

During the June 2014 takeover of Mosul, ISIL captured the Turkish consulate and held its staff hostage.[54] This three months-long captivity of 49 people severely restricted Turkey's freedom of action. The hostages were freed in mid September 2014. Turkey denied paying ransom [55] but prisoner swaps were hinted at.[56] It was later revealed that Turkish authorities had initially paid a certain amount of money to ISIL officials and the hostages were later swapped for 180 militants who had been apprehended or undergoing medical treatment in Turkey.[57]

November 2014 ISIL attack from Turkish territory[edit]

On 29 November 2014, reports emerged of ISIL fighters launching an assault on Kobanî from Turkish territory.[58] Kurdish sources in Kobane said that on November 29 ISIL fighters attacked Kobane from Turkish territory, and that the assault began with a vehicle driven by a suicide bomber coming from Turkish territory. During the attack, a group of ISIL fighters were seen atop granary silos on the Turkish side of the border.[59][60] According to the German news outlet 'Der Spiegel', ISIL fighters also attacked YPG positions near the border gate from Turkish soil.[61] According to the SOHR, YPG fighters crossed the Turkish border and attacked ISIL positions on Turkish soil, before pulling back to Syria. Soon afterwards, the Turkish Army regained control of the border crossing and silos area.[62]

January 2015 Istanbul bombing[edit]

On January 8, 2015, the perperator was identified as Diana Ramazova, a Chechen-Russian citizen from Dagestan. Turkish police are currently investigating Ramazova's possible links to al-Qaeda or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Further investigation revealed that suspect had photos with insurgents from ISIS [63][64]

The Anti-ISIL coalition[edit]

For a while in the late summer and early fall, it appeared that Turkey would join the anti-ISIL coalition, and while fighting on its southern border resulted in shots being fired into Turkey itself, it refused to join, causing blowback and rioting throughout the country.

A joint communiqué issued by the United States and 10 Arab states to stop the flow of volunteers to ISIL was signed by all participating countries except Turkey.[65]

The Refugee problem and the battle of Kobanē[edit]

Main article: Siege of Kobanê

In the Summer of 2014, there were riots in Istanbul over relations with locals and refugee,[66] and along the border with Syria as during the September battles with ISIL the army refused to let any more enter the country[67] before relenting.[68]

This has led to a revival of planning for a Turkish buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border to house the refugees.[69]

Around Sept. 20th, the so-called Islamic State launched an offensive to try to capture the border town of Kobanē besieging it from three sides. More than 140,000 Kurds have fled the town and surrounding villages, crossing into Turkey and leading to protests and riots on the Turkish side.[70] and the ending of the two-year-old cease fire between Turkey and the PKK[71]

ISIL troops had taken control of a hill from where fighters from the YPG, the main Kurdish armed group in northern Syria, had been attacking them, 10 km (6 miles) west of Kobanē. The fighting has gotten so close to the border that errant shells have landed in Turkish territory.[72]

On 29 September, thousands of people in many cities across the country marched in solidarity with the people of Kobnē, putting pressure on the government to do something.[73] The next day, HDP Co-Chairman Selahattin Demirtaş, the deputy leader of the Kurdish party in the Turkish parliament, slipped over the border to visit the besieged city, crossing back to demand more action by the government.[74]

Siege of the Süleyman Shah Tomb[edit]

Further information: Tomb of Suleyman Shah

Background[edit]

On 30 September 2014, the pro-government Yeni Şafak daily claimed that ISIL has been reinforcing militants around the tomb of the burial place of Suleyman Shah (the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire) for the previous three days.[75] Government spokesman later confirmed that ISIL troops were approaching the enclave.[76][77]

30-36 Turkish soldiers are stationed there to guard the tomb. An attack on the tomb, considered Turkish territory under a 1921 Franco-Turkish agreement, was under threat earlier in the year, prompting the government to declare that it would retaliate against any such attack, and would serve as a casus belli.

On 1 October, President Erdoğan said that there were no ISIL troops anywhere near the tomb, contradicting many party spokesmen, and government ministers, including Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç.[78]

Operation Shah Euphrates[edit]

On the night of 21–22 February 2015, a Turkish military convoy including tanks and other armored vehicles numbering about 100 entered Syria to evacuate the tomb's 40 guards and repatriate the remains in what was known as Operation Shah Euphrates.[79] One soldier died during the operation. The tomb complex was destroyed to prevent its use by ISIL.[80]

The tomb is now located in Turkish-controlled territory 200 meters inside Syria, 22 km (14 mi) west of Kobanî and 5 km (3.1 mi) east of the Euphrates, less than 2 km (1.2 mi) southeast of the Turkish village of Esmesi (Esmeler or Esme or Eshme) that is in southernmost Birecik District.[81] The Turkish Foreign Minister has stated that the relocation is only a temporary measure.[82]

The Syrian government said the raid was[83] an act of "flagrant aggression" and that it would hold Ankara responsible for its repercussions.

Turkey and Rojava[edit]

Further information: Siege of Kobanî

With the Turkish government thinking that the declaration was enough, and with only a minimum of western airstrikes helping the defenders of Kobanî, ISIL troops edged closer to the city, eventually entering it from the south and east.[84]

Feeling betrayed by the Turkish government and hearing that Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's previous vow not to let Kobanî fall was in fact a lie, refugees on the border and citizens in the cities of Istanbul, Ankara, Antakya, Antalya, Eskişehir, Denizli, Kocaeli, Diyarbakır, Siirt, Batman, and elsewhere began to protest. Turkish police responded with tear gas and water cannons, and live fire in the southern province of Adana, killing protestors.[85][86]

By 7 October, ISIL militants and Kurdish defenders were fighting in the streets of Kobanî, with many dead and scores wounded on both sides.[87] American and Arab states conducted airstrikes in support of the defense of the town. However, US officials acknowledged that airstrikes would not likely be decisive in preventing the fall of Kobanî. They described the air campaign as a broad effort to undermine ISIL's ability to operate rather than an intervention that could turn the tide of a particular battle, such as the one at Kobanî.[88]

As the battle for Kobanî continued to rage, rioting continued in Turkey, and almost 40 people were killed in street clashes by mid-October. In late October, ISIL began shelling the border post near Kobanî.[89]

On 11 October, Turkish President Erdogan denounced the protests, claiming that they were attacking Turkey's "peace, stability, and environment of trust." He stated that the government was already caring for 200,000 Kurdish refugees from the Kobanî area and asked, "What does Kobanî have to do with Turkey?"[90]

By mid-October, fighting had also renewed between Turkish military forces and PKK elements in southeastern Turkey.

On 29 November 2014, ISIL fighters began attacking YPG fighters in Kobanî from Turkish territory.[58] Kurdish sources in Kobane said that on November 29 ISIL fighters attacked Kobane from Turkish territory, and that the assault began with a vehicle driven by a suicide bomber coming from Turkish territory. During the attack, a group of ISIL fighters were seen atop granary silos on the Turkish side of the border.[59][60] According to the German news outlet 'Der Spiegel', ISIL fighters also attacked YPG positions near the border gate from Turkish soil.[61] According to the SOHR, YPG fighters crossed the Turkish border and attacked ISIL positions on Turkish soil, before pulling back to Syria. Soon afterwards, the Turkish Army regained control of the border crossing and silos area.[62]

Refugees[edit]

Satellite images confirmed that the first Syrian camps appeared in Turkey in July 2011, shortly after the towns of Deraa, Homs and Hama were besieged.[91] By June 2013, Turkey has accepted 400,000 Syrian refugees, half of whom are spread around a dozen camps placed under the direct authority of the Turkish Government.[92] In 2014, the number swelled over a million, as some 200-300,000 Syrian Kurds streamed into Turkey in September alone, upon the Siege of Kobane.

The population of Syrian refugees in Turkey has 30 percent in 22 government-run camps near the Syrian-Turkish border.[93] The rest do their best to make ends meet in communities across the country.

Turkey has accepted over 1,5 million Syrian refugees since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War.[94] Turkey has accommodated most of its Syrian refugees in tent cities administered by the country's emergency management agency.[95]

Related criticism of Turkey[edit]

Turkey has been accused of supporting or colluding with ISIL, especially by Syrian Kurds.[96][97] According to journalist Patrick Cockburn, there is "strong evidence for a degree of collaboration" between the Turkish intelligence services and ISIL, although the "exact nature of the relationship ... remains cloudy".[98] David L. Phillips of Columbia University's Institute for the Study of Human Rights, who compiled a list of allegations and claims accusing Turkey of assisting ISIL, writes that these allegations "range from military cooperation and weapons transfers to logistical support, financial assistance, and the provision of medical services".[99] Several ISIL fighters and commanders have claimed Turkey supports ISIL.[100][101][102] Within Turkey itself, ISIL is believed to have caused increasing political polarisation between secularists and Islamists.[103]

Turkey has been further criticized for allowing individuals from outside the region to enter its territory and join ISIL in Syria.[104][105] With many Islamist fighters passing through Turkey to fight in Syria, Turkey has been accused of becoming a transit country for such fighters and has been labeled the "Gateway to Jihad".[106] Turkish border patrol officers are reported to have deliberately overlooked those entering Syria upon the payment of a small bribe.[106] A report by Sky News exposed documents showing that passports of foreign Islamists wanting to join ISIL by crossing into Syria had been stamped by the Turkish government.[107] An ISIL commander stated that "most of the fighters who joined us in the beginning of the war came via Turkey, and so did our equipment and supplies",[102] adding that ISIL fighters received treatment in Turkish hospitals.[102]

Turkey reported that between 1957 and 1998, Turkish forces laid 615,419 antipersonnel mines along the Syrian border “to prevent illegal border crossings,” These mines are killing Syrians stuck on the border or trying to cross near Kobani. Turkey is required under the Mine Ban Treaty, to destroy all antipersonnel mines, but has missed deadlines. Human Rights Watch claims in its report that as of November 18 over 2,000 civilians were still in the Tel Shair corridor section of the mine belt due to the fact that Turkey had been refusing entry for cars or livestock, and the refugees did not want to leave behind their belongings.[108]

Also, authorities in Turkey have confirmed social media reports that an injured Islamic State commander is being treated in a Denizli hospital, saying the militant has every right to receive medical care as he is a Turkish citizen.[109]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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