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Is Turkey planning to stay permanently in al-Bab? Some Hints..

 

It has been five months since Turkey launched Operation Euphrates Shield. Since then, the operation, comprising Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and the Turkish backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) have taken 227 settlements and 1860 km² of Syrian territory. Currently, the TSK and FSA are besieging the strategically important city al-Bab.

Beyond its intention to capture the city, Turkey’s future plans for Al-Bab are unclear, in part because President Erdogan and Turkish officials have been making incosistent statements regarding their objectives in Syria. On November 29 2016, for example,  Erdogan announced that the main aim of the intervention was to overthrow Assad, only to backpedal 48 hours later, following a conversation with Russian leader Putin. A statement issued after the NSC meeting on 1 December 2016 stated, “The main objective of Operation Euphrates Shield is to secure our border, prevent attacks on our country and eradicate ISIS and other terrorist organizations from the region.”

Further, Turkish government spokesman Numan Kurtulmuş, speaking to the Anadolu Agency on January 24th further stated that Euphrates Shield was not conducted merely to clear the area of terrorists and then hand it back to Assad. This statement may have been the clearest sign yet with regards to Turkey’s intention on al-Bab.

Last Thursday, in another important development, the Jarablus Police Department started operations. Turkish protocol participated in the opening ceremony, which included a speech delivered by the governor of Gaziantep (a Turkish province close to the Syrian border). During the ceremony, the Turkish trained Jarablus Police Corps, shouted slogans in favour of President Erdogan, as well as takbhirs. Footage of these events attracted widespread attention and comment on social media.

Another sign that Turkey intends to stay in Syria for the foreseeable future, is suggested by a report from the pro-Kurdish ANF News Agency, claiming that schools in Jarablus have recently begun to implement a largely Turkish education.

A further hint regarding Turkish ambitions in Syria comes from weather forecasts provided by the TvNet, a channel with strong affiliations to the Turkish government. These have recently started to include forecasts for al-Bab, listing the cities weather conditions alongside those provided for Turkish provinces located in South-Eastern Anatolia.

Finally, tweets taking the form “82:El-Bab”¹ from social media sites reporting on Operation Euphrates Shield, in particular those supporting the Turkish  government, have added to perceptions that Turkey intends to remain in al-Bab long term.

¹Turkey is divided into 81 provinces.

WHattı

Editing: Oliver Wright

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