In recent weeks, Turkey made significant progress in its fight against terrorist organizations. Having dealt a heavy blow to the terrorist organization PKK in Afrin, Syria, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) turned their attention to the group's stronghold in the Qandil Mountains in northern Iraq. Although many militants have been deployed to northern Syria in recent years, Qandil remains a strategically important place for the PKK, as this is where the group's senior leadership plans terror attacks against Turkey. At the same time, Qandil represented for years a secure command center that was out of the Turkish state's reach – a myth that Turkey is keen on debunking.
The Turkish military's mission is to remove terrorists from Qandil. But Turkey won't stop there. According to senior Turkish officials, the counterterrorism campaign will continue until all PKK strongholds in northern Syria are cleared.
Turkey's cross-border military operations are based on its right to self-defense under international law. After all, the terrorists in Syria and Iraq pose a direct threat against Turkey's national security. Over the past decades, the PKK planned and carried out countless terror attacks against Turkey from those safe harbors, which resulted in thousands of civilian casualties on Turkish soil.
Needless to say, diplomacy is key to facilitating Turkey's military activities on the ground. After all, the Turks are operating within the borders of two chaos-ridden countries, where a number of other countries, including Russia, the United States and Iran, have military personnel and vested political interests. In other words, Turkey's counterterrorism operations are of interest not just to Syria and Iraq but various regional and global players.
Therefore, the Turks have been treading carefully in the diplomatic arena as they launched military operations on the ground. Putting boots on the ground, in turn, strengthens the hands of Turkish diplomats at the negotiating table and makes them able to speak frankly with their counterparts.
Operation Olive Branch, which Turkey launched earlier this year against the PKK stronghold of Afrin, was one of the most complex military campaigns in terms of the diplomatic steps required to facilitate it. It was closely monitored by the Syrian regime, the United States, Iran and Russia. Although the U.S., Iran and Bashar Assad objected to the ground offensive, Turkey took the necessary risks and deployed troops to northwestern Syria. Let us recall that the TSK struck Iranian-backed militias to prevent them from sending reinforcements to Afrin. Throughout the operation, Ankara and Moscow worked closely to coordinate their actions on the ground.Upon completion of the Afrin operation, the Turkish government successfully negotiated an agreement with the United States to secure the withdrawal of the PKK's Syrian branch, the People's Protection Units (YPG), from the predominantly Arab city of Manbij.
According to sources, negotiations are underway between the Turks and the Russians to remove PKK terrorists and regime loyalists from the strategically important city of Tal Abyad.The Qandil operation, by contrast, requires a lot less diplomacy. There are significantly less players involved in the area than Afrin. As a matter of fact, only Iraq and Iran are directly interested in the situation in Qandil. The central government in Baghdad is embarrassed because it has been unable to remove the terrorists from its northern territories and assert its authority over those lands. Provided that those terrorists have been targeting Turkey from Iraqi soil, Baghdad is hardly in a position to object to the Turkish ground incursion.
Iran, in turn, has failed to take responsibility in Qandil as a neighboring country. In recent days, Iranian officials have signaled their unhappiness with the Turkish presence in the area. According to sources, Tehran has been mounting pressure on the Iraqi government to publicly oppose Turkey's counter-terrorism operation in Qandil.
Needless to say, the Iranian position does not serve its bilateral relations with Turkey, regional stability or the idea of good neighborliness. Instead, Tehran must support Ankara's efforts to crack down on PKK terrorists in the area. Either way, there is no doubt that Turkey will fight terrorism and remove all terrorists from the Qandil mountains wherever the Iranians stand on this issue.At a time when the regional balance of power is rapidly shifting against Iranian interests, Russia and the U.S. agree on the need to limit Tehran's influence in Syria and Washington is expected to slap Iran with heavier sanctions, it would be unwise for the Iranians to alienate Turkey.
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