Ankara will most likely take on Washington's role east of the Euphrates in Syria and not allow a power vacuum in the region after the U.S. troops' pullout from the country, a think tank has suggested in a report highlighting Turkey's security challenges in 2019.
"Turkey will most likely conduct a military operation against the YPG [the PKK-affiliated People's Protection Units] and Daesh in coordination with the Syrian opposition. If the transitional process goes through, Turkey will take over the U.S. role east of the Euphrates," the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) said in it's Turkey's Security Landscape in 2019 report.
Stressing that ongoing conflict in Syria and Turkey's fight against the PKK-affiliated YPG will remain the most important topics in Ankara's agenda in 2019, the report underscored that Turkey will likely maintain and further enhance its military activism abroad.
In December, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw its troops from Syria, saying that Daesh was defeated. Days after, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pledged that Turkey will take over the fight against the remnants of Daesh in Syria but put the likely operation east of the Euphrates against the YPG on hold. This development was quickly also interpreted as an intention to halt U.S. support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is an umbrella group consisting mostly of PKK-affiliated YPG terrorists, and received serious criticism from within the White House.
Pointing out that people in Trump's circle of influence, such as Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, will continue pushing for a pro-YPG agenda in Syria, the report said Turkey will eventually have to undertake the lead in the fight against Daesh.
Ankara and Washington have been at odds for some time now due to the latter's close partnership with the YPG. Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of the PKK, which has claimed the lives of more than 40,000 people its 30-year terror campaign against Turkey. The U.S., however, while listing the PKK as a terrorist group, opted to continue its steadfast militarily support for the terrorist organization under the pretext of fighting Daesh despite the warnings of its NATO ally.
In relation to the recent talks between the YPG and the Bashar Assad regime, the report highlighted that this rapprochement with the blessings of Russia and Iran might become a preventive factor for Turkey's upcoming operation. "These circumstances would have the potential to reshape the constitutional committee process," the report added.
It also touched on another likely possibility in regard to the SDF's future in Syria, namely that non-YPG components of the SDF might join the banner of the National Army and with such a development, the Syrian opposition would control half of the country, once again facilitating a political solution for the Syrian conflict.