Initiated by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) on Aug. 24, 2016 to ensure border security and remove the threat of terrorist organizations in the region, especially Daesh and the People's Protection Units (YPG), Operation Euphrates Shield quickly achieved success in Jarablus and then turned toward al-Bab in the south. Before the operation started, Daesh bombs were dropping in the southeastern Turkish city of Kilis, located on the Turkish-Syrian border, and both Daesh and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the YPG, were consolidating their presence, becoming increasingly growing threats. As soon as the operation started, the bombs falling within our borders suddenly stopped, then Daesh was quickly removed from the other side of the border and a line was drawn to prevent the YPG from creating a corridor to threaten Turkey's territorial integrity.
Operation Euphrates Shield did not take al-Bab as easily as it did Jarablus. The operations continued for months and Daesh desperately resisted the advance. Eventually, however, the TSK made Daesh surrender in al-Bab almost on its own. This alone shows the unfairness and fallacy of the argument that Turkey aids Daesh – a slur produced by the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) three years ago and hastily accepted by the Western media. Turkey is the largest and almost sole power fighting Daesh today on the ground. Turkey maintains a firm stance against this bloody terrorist organization, doing it all before the eyes of the world.
After months of conflict, Daesh seems to have withdrawn from al-Bab. News coming from the region reveals that a de facto Green Line similar to the one in Cyprus has emerged. The Turks, namely the TSK, are directing the Free Syrian Army (FSA) on one side of the line, while the Russians are in charge of regime forces on the other side. The danger lying ahead is a possible conflict between these two forces. However, Russia's statements are extremely cautious and stress appreciation for Turkey's months-long struggle. Nevertheless, it is necessary to acknowledge that the balance in the region is very delicate.
This is why Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım's meetings with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and NATO leaders during the NATO Summit in Germany are critical. Turkey wants to have a say in the operation that will continue after al-Bab and be a party in the operation or one of the decision makers. Turkey completely deserves this as a power that liberated al-Bab practically on its own. In this regard, its relations with the new U.S. administration and its role in the U.S.-Russia-Turkey triangle might remove the deadlock.
If the PYD abides by red lines
The PYD-YPG is the most important red line for Turkey in the Syrian crisis. Ankara has so far striven to exclude the PYD from talks on the grounds that it exchanges arms and terrorists with the PKK and is trying to expand into Syria in an aggressive manner that threatens Turkey. Even if the PYD was not included in the Astana talks, Russia met it in Moscow. So, it seems hardly possible for the U.S. and Russia to end this relationship in the process of reconstructing Syria. Moreover, news reveals that Moscow brought together the Bashar Assad regime and the PYD.
Turkey is adopting an increasingly more realistic policy in the face of all these developments and changing its steps and making them compatible with the facts of the situation. One of the most important clues of this is a statement that İlnur Çevik, a chief adviser to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and columnist for Daily Sabah, made to The New York Times, saying that "Turkey might tolerate some kind of Kurdish entity in northeastern Syria, but would not accept any Kurdish presence in majority-Arab areas west of the Euphrates River."
This means if the PYD can put distance between itself and the YPG-PKK, the PYD's presence in the east of the Euphrates might be accepted by Turkey. Developments indicate that such a maneuver might strengthen Turkey's hand in terms of a sustainable policy in the medium term.