There are many reasons 2016 was an extraordinary year on behalf of Turkish citizens, but witnessing the Turkish military enter Syria on the ground with tanks and troops was the biggest surprise.
On Aug. 24, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), in cooperation with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), launched Operation Euphrates Shield in northern Syria to secure its border from Daesh terrorists.
Having cleared the northern Syrian town of Jarablus from Daesh in less than a day, the FSA, backed by the Turkish military, went on to connect the Azaz-Jarablus line along the Turkish border to ensure full security for Ankara.
Following the liberation of Jarablus and the completion of the Azaz-Jarablus line, the Turkey-backed FSA marched toward Dabiq, an important Daesh-held town south of al-Rai.
The town was supposed to have turned into a scene from a doomsday war according to Daesh. However, the FSA liberated the town in a short span of time.
With Dabiq under FSA control, Ankara set its sights on one target: Al-Bab. Opposition fighters, backed by Turkish artillery and fighter jets, knocked on the doors of al-Bab last month. After weeks of inspection and military consultation, the FSA launched an offensive against Daesh militants in the town.
The battle for al-Bab is still ongoing and as we enter 2017, al-Bab remains a highly-valued target for the Turkish military.
The town is wanted by another party as well. The People's Protection Units (YPG), the armed wing of the PKK's Syrian offshoot Democratic Union Party (PYD), has been marching toward al-Bab too.
The PKK puts great emphasis on al-Bab because capturing the town would allow the terrorist group to connect its cantons from the east and west. The YPG holds control of Afrin, Tal Rifat on the west and Manbij and Kobani on the east.
Ankara seems to have two certain goals within the scope of Operation Euphrates Shield. The Turkish government wants to be free of Daesh terror by eliminating its militants from their nests in northern Syria. It also wants to prevent the PKK from establishing an independent terrorist state along its borders.
Turkey claims that the cross-border operation has been carried out in line with its international rights for self-defense.
Daesh used to shell the border Kilis and Gaziantep provinces before the operation began. For months, the people of Kilis lived in fear of Daesh mortars and shelling. Having pushed Daesh tens of kilometers southwards, life in Kilis has returned to normal.
Now that al-Bab has been breached and the liberation of the town is highly likely in the first month of 2017 if not weeks, Turkey's gaze will turn to PYD-held areas. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signaled in recent weeks that PYD-held Afrin, Manbij and Kobani will be their next targets.
Manbij has been a troubling issue between Ankara and Washington as well. The YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) currently holds control of Manbij. The Turkish government has repeatedly expressed its frustration over the issue in talks with the Obama administration.
In addition, the U.S. is accused of supplying arms and ammunition to the SDF and YPG, however, Washington denies supplying arms to the latter.
Even though the YPG had announced in November that it was withdrawing from Manbij, it turned out that YPG militants did not actually retreat to the east of the Euphrates. They instead turned their gaze on al-Bab westwards, disrupting the FSA's anti-Daesh fight around the town.
Ankara's determination to fight the YPG in Syria could be seen in negotiations between Turkey and Russia for a cease-fire. Even though Ankara and the Kremlin agreed on a nationwide cease-fire in Syria, the former asserted that it will continue to fight the YPG, which it considers to be a terrorist group.
Despite Ankara's ambitious remarks about eliminating the YPG in Manbij and Afrin, the group remains an important partner for Washington as the U.S. has been working closely with the YPG on the ground in Syria.
The YPG launched an operation last month to retake Raqqa from Daesh. The U.S. is believed to have provided weapons, ammunition and equipment to the YPG for the offensive as well as intelligence and supervision.
There were many talks and discussions regarding Turkey's cross-border operation in Syria. It was a first-time thing for Turkish citizens to see their military in another country's territory.
The government launched the operation to ensure its national security and eliminate multiple threats at its roots. As it seems, Turkey will continue its anti-terror fight in 2017 in northern Syria.
As al-Bab is on the brink of liberation, the PYD-held towns of Afrin and Manbij are obvious targets for Ankara. With the new Turkish counterterrorism strategy abroad, things will not be the same in Syria and Iraq for Daesh and the PKK.
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