Spain has announced its support for Turkey’s planned military operation into northern Syria, making it the first European country to do so.
Spain’s official North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Twitter account made the announcement in a series of tweets on Monday. “NATO Support to Turkey is aimed at contributing to a de-escalation of the crisis along the Alliance’s border.”
— España en la OTAN (@SpainNATO) October 7, 2019
Using the hashtag #SupportToTurkey, Spain emphasised the fact that Turkey is a fellow member state of NATO and ally, promising “commitment & solidarity w/ [with] our allied Turkey,” alongside footage of joint NATO drills.
Spain’s declaration of support comes amid mass criticism from other European and Western countries against the planned operation, including from the United Kingdom, France, the Czech Republic. The European Union (EU) has also expressed its concerns over the potential effects of the operation such as a possible new wave of refugees, and the United States (US) has stated that it does not support the operation and threatened to make Turkey an “extremely decimated economy” if its military forces harm any American troops.
This is despite the US having gave its blessing on Sunday for Turkey to proceed with the operation and withdrawing its troops from areas in the north-east of Syria. The sudden shift in the stance of the administration of President Donald Trump has confused many on all sides, reflecting the contrasting foreign policy decisions for which it has long been known. The US also severely limited Turkey’s access to airspace over north-east Syria yesterday, crippling its capability to provide aerial cover throughout the operation.
The primary motive for Turkey’s military operation is to clear the Kurdish militias from its border region, such as the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria which is currently entrenched east of the Euphrates River in particular and which Turkey sees as a national security threat, as well as the establishment of a safe zone in the north-east of the country. The operation would achieve two things at once: the push back against the US-backed Kurdish militias and the placement of at least two million refugees in that safe zone, providing displaced Syrians with a new home in their country of origin.
The move followed on from a warning by Erdogan on Saturday that the operation could be launched “maybe today or tomorrow,” and comes after months of the same threat being made on a regular basis. It also comes almost two months after the US and Turkey struck an agreement to cooperate and work together to set up a joint cooperation centre near the Syrian border in order to establish the safe zone in north-east Syria, which is the primary motivation for Turkey’s manoeuvre.
The military operation that is set to take place is the third Turkish incursion into northern Syria, following on from Operation Euphrates Shield in 2016 and Operation Olive Branch in 2018, and fulfils Erdogan’s statement last week that Turkey must take its own course in setting up the safe zone and that it must go through the process alone.
Following the announcement of the Turkish operation yesterday, Syrian opposition groups – as well as Syrian Turkmen forces – have also pledged their support for the operation and are expected to join in once it is launched.
There is widespread fear among many in the international community that the operation will result in Turkey’s occupation of Syrian territory, but Turkey denies that claim and presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin has insisted that “Turkey has no interest in occupying any part of Syria. We haven’t done so in Jarablus when we fought against Daesh and eliminated 3,000 terrorists there…or when we entered Afrin, we have not occupied any part of Syria, we have returned those places to the local owners and residents, we have no intention of occupying any parts of Syria in the east of the Euphrates either, and also we have no interest in changing the demographics there.”
Another fear is that the operation is a method of persecuting the Kurdish people, who are stateless and are scattered around various countries in the Levant. Kalin also countered that claim, stating that “This is not a move against the Kurds. Turkey doesn’t have any problem with the Kurds. We are fighting against terrorist organization that has killed and oppressed the Kurdish people as well.”