Turkey announces Euphrates Shield military invasion of northern Syria has concluded
On March 29 the Turkish National Security Council (MGK) made a surprising announcement, Turkey’s military intervention in northern Syria has been “successfully completed,” in other words it has come to an end.1 According to the MGK “Thanks to the Euphrates Shield, we have secured an area of 2,015 square kilometers under security by capturing al-Bab. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) has been settled there. Syrians in Turkey have returned and life has returned to normal.”2
Euphrates Shield started on August 24, 2016 when a small contingent of Turkish armor and special forces backed by artillery and air support advanced on the Syrian town of Jarablus which at the time was held by ISIL.3 This Turkish invasion force acted as support for a much larger body of allied rebel groups including the FSA, the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, Failaq al-Sham, and the Sultan Murat Brigade among others.
After Jarablus was captured, the Turkish backed rebels slowly advanced on the town of al-Bab which was eventually captured in February, while prior to that the prophetically relevant town of Dabiq was seized.4 With al-Bab captured the next target was the Kurdish held town of Manbij.5 There was also talk by Erdoğan that Raqqa, the seat of ISIL’s caliphate, was also an objective.6
With Manbij and Raqqa on Erdoğan’s menu it was rather surprising that that Euphrates Shield has been ostensibly brought to an end. Maybe Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş was being honest when he claimed “Turkey is not an occupying country and is not entering a war.”7
At face value one could argue that Turkey’s operation has more or less reached its objectives. The official purpose of Euphrates Shield was to evict ISIL from the border region with Turkey as Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım previously stated “We will continue until Daesh (ISIS) and other terrorist elements are taken out.”8 However, while it would seem reasonable that Turkey would want to fight ISIL, as the latter has launched numerous terrorist attacks within the country and has been frequently bombarding the Kilis border region with rockets, there appears to be other more important reasons behind Euphrates Shield.
For instance, Erdoğan in a moment of candor admitted (emphasis mine):9 “Why did we enter [Syria]? We do not have an eye on Syrian soil. The issue is to provide lands to their real owners. That is to say we are there for the establishment of justice. We entered there to end the rule of the tyrant al-Assad who terrorizes with state terror. [We didn’t enter] for any other reason.”
Euphrates Shield was also intended to prevent the Kurds in Syria from forming an autonomous region completely continuous with Turkey’s border with Syria. It is little coincidence that the region invaded by Turkey prevents the Kurds from joining their eastern and western zones of control in Syria. As the former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu stated back in February 2016, “We will not let Azaz fall. The YPG (the People’s Protection Units, a Syrian Kurdish militia) will not be able to cross to the west of the Euphrates (River) and east of Afrin.”10
Beyond establishing an ISIL-free zone, which in reality is a Kurd free zone, from Azaz to Jarablus, some in Turkey are advocating that further interventions be launched into Kurdish held Syrian territory. Journalist Ibrahim Karagul has written numerous articles saying that for Turkey to counter the threat posed by the “Crusader” West and the Iranian led Shiite axis, that it must invade the Kurdish controlled areas of Afrin and Tal Abyad in Syria, in addition to Tal Afar in Iraq.11
One must wonder why have the Turks concluded operation Euphrates Shield when the objectives of Afrin and Tal Abyad remain in the hands of the Kurds? Firstly it should be realized that there is no indication that Turkish troops are pulling out of Syria just that their advances will cease. And as Yıldırım has clarified “After this point, if we take action in the event that our security is threatened or if action is needed against DAESH, then it will be as part of a new operation. That means the Euphrates Shield is over and any potential actions, if necessary, will be named differently.” In other words if ISIL or the Kurds cause Turkey further problems then Euphrates Shield will resume under a different name.
Secondly and more importantly, Turkey was foiled in its Syrian ambitions due to the presence of American and Russian troops. On March 4 a US armored convoy was spotted near Manbij.12 The official explanation was that the convoy was there to deal with ISIL, however, partly based on the fact that all the convoy vehicles were conspicuously displaying the US flag, it seems reasonable to presume this deployment of US forces was to prevent the Turks from attacking the Kurds.
A few weeks later on March 20 video emerged of Russian troops in Afrin. According to YPG spokesman Redur Xelil these troops were deployed to Afrin to train Kurdish forces.13 With regards to this deployment the Russian Defense Ministry stated “There are no plans to create new Russian military bases on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic.”14 This statement may or may not be true but it is clear that Russian troops are in Afrin at least for the short term and are there to provide support to the Kurds.
With American troops backing up the Kurds in Manbij and Russian troops backing up the Kurds in Afrin, Turkey’s push towards these objectives have been thwarted, at least the short term. Erdoğan may talk harshly and insultingly towards Europe, he may consider Turkey to be a regional power and he may want to transform it into a superpower in the form a new Ottoman empire, but he ultimately understands his limitations. He knows that if he were to attack the Kurds in Manbij or Afrin and in the process harm US or Russian troops then he would be dragged into a very serious confrontation, one which Turkey is not prepared to handle (just think of how long it took for the Turkish backed rebel forces to advance a couple kilometers into Syria and capture al-Bab).
Although I am sure that Turkey has achieved some of its objections in operation Euphrates Shield–evicting ISIL from the Turkish border, preventing the Kurds of Syria from forming a continuous autonomous region, preventing Assad from retaking all of his territory–in my view the real reason the Euphrates Shield has come to an official end is due to the deployment of Russian and American troops in Kurdish territory. Erdoğan may be crazy but he is currently not crazy enough, nor strong enough, to engage in open hostilities with either Russia or the US.
 http://aranews.net/2017/02/turkish-forces-capture-al-bab-after-alleged-death-of-444-civilians-prepare-to-attack-kurdish-headquarters/ , http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/10/syria-war-turkish-backed-rebels-seize-dabiq-isil-161016093547972.html
 https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/scores-kurds-killed-captured-turkish-troops-kick-off-manbij-offensive-graphic-photos/ , https://www.dailysabah.com/diplomacy/2017/03/02/manbij-is-turkeys-next-target-in-syria-erdogan
 Erdogan finally admits the real reason for his military intervention in Syria , http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-entered-syria-to-end-al-assads-rule-president-erdogan.aspx?pageID=238&nID=106709&NewsCatID=352
 Ibrahim Karagul: Turkey should launch 3 more military interventions in Iraq and Syria , http://www.yenisafak.com/en/columns/ibrahimkaragul/whatever-you-do-this-nation-will-not-surrender-you-cannot-defeat-it-2035360 , http://www.yenisafak.com/en/columns/ibrahimkaragul/mecca-in-the-south-istanbul-in-the-north-this-is-the-big-plan-2033568 , http://www.yenisafak.com/en/columns/ibrahimkaragul/game-over-the-july-15-resistance-reached-jarabulus-2031425