Update on Tal Afar situation and operation Euphrates Shield
Turkey has deployed military forces in the northern portions of Iraq and Syria. In Iraq’s Mosul province Turkish troops, without the consent of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, are training and supporting Kurdish forces fighting against ISIL. In northern Syria the Turks have launched operation Euphrates Shield, a military intervention ostensibly intended to displace ISIL from the area, consisting of Turkish special forces, armor, artillery and warplanes backing the FSA and other rebel groups. Due to recent developments, Turkey’s military intervention in both these countries may escalate.
In northern Iraq, the strategically important town of Tal Afar, which has a significant Turkmen population, is in the cross hairs of the Iranian backed Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi militias (PMU). Forces of the Shiite militia are only 3 kilometer from the town, having captured the local airport.1 To the east of Tal Afar, the PMU has succeeded in blocking highway 47, a key supply route for ISIL’s beleagured city of Mosul.2 While to the north, the PMU is advancing on the border town of Rabia, in an attempt to further hinder travel between Mosul and Raqqa for ISIL.3
As I have already posted about,4 the Turks do not want Tal Afar to fall into the hands of Shiite militias, ostensibly for fear of a massacre of the local Turkmens. As Arshad al-Salihi, head of the Iraqi Turkmen Front, has commented “We fear bad things may happen in Tal Afar if Hashd al-Shaabi militiamen enter the city.”5 Al-Salihi also warned “we will not accept the entry of PKK terrorists into our city on the pretext of liberating it from Daesh, like what took place before in Sinjar.” So we can assume that Turkish opposition to Shiite involvement in the liberation of Tal Afar is also motivated by anti-Kurdish sentiments, in addition to plain old Turkish neo-Ottoman expansionism.
The recent PMU advances have aggravated Turkish concerns, prompting presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın to respond:6 “It has been said that the Hasdh al-Shaabi would not enter Tal Afar. There are recent developments to the contrary. … If our request isn’t met [that PMU not enter Tal Afar], all options will be put on the table. We will bring our case before the international arena.” Furthermore, pertaining to the nearby town of Sinjar, President Erdoğan has warned “PKK terrorists are trying to turn the city into a base, but we won’t let that happen.”7
With the fall of Tal Afar into the hands of the PMU likely to occur in the following days, it will be interesting to see how Turkey responds to the situation, especially given the talk of a Turkish military intervention as a potential solution to the problems in question.
In northern Syria, with Turkish and FSA forces moving on the town of Al-Bab, tensions have increased following the killing of three Turkish soldiers purportedly by a Syrian regime airstrike.8 It is interesting to note that this airstrike occurred on the one year anniversary of Turkey’s downing of a Russian Su-24 bomber, I suspect this was not a coincidence. Turkish Prime Minister Benali Yildirim vowed future retaliation if such attacks occur again, saying:9
“It is obvious that there are some who are unhappy with Turkey’s fight against DAESH. But this attack and other such attacks [on Turkish troops] will be retaliated. … These attacks, wherever they come from, will not weaken the determination of Turkey and the Turkish Armed Forces. [The Euphrates Shield operation] safeguards the stability of Syria and the life and property security of Turkey.”
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the CHP opposition party, was very concerned that the incident “could bring us to a very dangerous place. It could drag Turkey into a very dangerous process.”10
In other news it is being reported that PYD forces have used TOW missiles, supplied by the US, against Turkish forces north of Al-Bab Syria.11 No doubt such occurrences will reinforce the Turkish belief that the US is conspiring against Turkey via the Kurds and the Gulenists.
If Bashar al-Assad continues to target Turkish forces in northern Syria–I highly doubt that the airstrike in question was a mistake–then we could very well see a direct confrontation between the Syrian regime and Turkey. Given Turkey’s involvement in Iraq and Syria, and the developments in those two fronts in, one should be prepared for further Turkish military involvement.
 http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/11/iraq-militias-fight-cut-isil-supply-route-mosul-161121181626653.html , http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/11/mosul-supply-line-secured-severing-isil-syria-161123133637004.html
 http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/three-turkish-soldiers-killed-in-suspected-syrian-government-air-strike.aspx?pageID=238&nID=106496&NewsCatID=352 , http://www.yenisafak.com/en/world/taf-assad-regime-carried-out-attack-on-turkish-troops-in-n-syria-2569470