The Turkish military amassed on the Syrian border yesterday (Monday), sending at least four troop convoys and a missile battery. Thus far, there is no indication that the military would cross the border into Syria, and officials say that they are there for training. However, many analysts believe that they are there as a precaution against Kurdish separatists, who have been taking advantage of the instability within Syria. Turkey has called for regime change in Syria.
For more on Turkey-Syria relations, see:
- Erdogan Condemns Syrian Border Violation
- Syria Refugees Burden Jordan, Turkey
- Turkey Freezes Syrian Assets
Two of the convoys, containing 30 vehicles each, are stationed in the border town of Kilis, which is the temporary home of many of the 40,000 Syrian refugees in the country. The state-run Anatolian news agency reported a fourth troop movement, in which tanks and military vehicles were moved from Kilis and the surrounding area directly two the border.
Although the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was originally friendly with the Assad regime in Syria, relations have turned decidedly sour. Two Turkish citizens were injured, and the border’s integrity violated in April when Syrian troops shot across the border at refugees, killing two. Then, on June 22, a Turkish reconnaissance plane was shot down, killing two pilots. Yesterday, Erdogan spoke with US President Barack Obama by phone, “to coordinate efforts to accelerate a political transition in Syria,” according to the White House.
However, protecting the border against Syria may not be the only purpose for the increased troop mobilization. Occupied with fighting against the Free Syrian Army, the Syrian government’s control over the Kurdish regions in the north of the country has weakened. In that environment, Kurdish militias have taken control. Kurdish separatists are considered by Turkey to be one of the country’s greatest threats, and there are fears that what happens in Syria may reignite the conflict between the Turkish military and the Kurdish militant group, PKK.
Despite the situation, Turkey itself has said that the Kurds in Syria actually support Bashar al-Assad. Erdogan has said that the military would pursue and attack any PKK members trying to enter Syria. The PKK has some forces in northern Iraq, which suggests that the PKK would seek to expand into Syria.
Iran has warned Turkey against intervening in light of the military build-up. “Any attack on Syrian territory will meet with a harsh response, and the Iranian-Syrian mutual defense agreement will be activated,” al-Watan newspaper reported. “Turkey has received very strong warnings in the past few hours and the following message — beware changing the rules of the game.” The newspaper cited an unnamed Arab diplomat as saying that Turkey would use the PKK as a pretext to attack Syria.