Alwaght- Turkey’s meddling in the Syrian conflict is a product of Ankara’s misconstruing of the war. Clearly, Turkish policymakers had been betting on the Syrian government’s collapse when they made decisions pertaining to their stance on the conflict. But almost five years into the bloody war, it is becoming more and more apparent that Damascus is not going to fall. This has left Turkey to try and sweep up the foreign policy mess it has made.
Showing that there is awareness of Turkey’s blunders, Deputy Prime Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Hurriyet Daily News that he, among others, deems his country’s course of action with regards to Syria as faulted.
“I am one of those who believe our policy on Syria made big mistakes. I have already spoken bluntly about this,” he said.
Observers contend that Turkey’s first mistake was to stand against the Syrian government. Everything that follows is linked to this miscalculation and escalated into an active yet destructive role in the conflict.
Turkey’s insistence on Assad’s departure became the driving force behind Turkish support for terrorist groups. It is well known that Turkey has become a breeding and nurturing ground for terrorists.
In 2011, when the violence first broke out in Syria, Turkey trained defectors of the Syrian army on its territory. That same year, under the supervision of Turkish intelligence, these militants announced the birth of the so-called Free Syrian Army, which was to engage in fighting against Damascus. Furthermore, Syria’s neighbour provided a base for operations for the FSA, in addition to arming them, alongside Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Since the declaration of ISIS’s establishment in June 2014, Turkey has also been seen as a supporter of the group, albeit clandestinely.
A 2014 research paper published by David Philips at the Columbia University, New York, cited multiple evidences that implicated Turkey in ISIS’s activities.
The evidences included the testimony of an ISIS commander who told The Washington Post on August 12: “Most of the fighters who joined us in the beginning of the war came via Turkey, and so did our equipment and supplies.”
“According to CHP Vice President Bulent Tezcan, three trucks were stopped in Adana for inspection on January 19, 2014. The trucks were loaded with weapons in Esenboga Airport in Ankara. The drivers drove the trucks to the border, where a MIT agent was supposed to take over and drive the trucks to Syria to deliver materials to ISIS and groups in Syria,” the research added.
Furthermore, in August 2015, Turkish newspaper Bugün reported a transfer of weapon and explosives from Turkey to ISIS through Akcakale border post. A few days later offices of Koza İpek Media Group, the owner of the newspaper, were raided by Turkish police.
Even Russian President Vladimir Putin directly accused Erdogan’s government of aiding ISIS and al-Qaeda.
In 2013, Turkish jets shot down a Syrian helicopter along the border. The Syrian army said the pilot of the Mi-17 had accidently strayed into Turkish airspace while monitoring terrorists who were moving across the border into Syria. When it was shot down, the pilot was on his way back. He was beheaded by militants when he crashed.
The Turks targeted a Syrian MiG-23 in 2014 as the aircraft was flying in Syrian airspace on a mission to attack militant-held areas in the city of Latakia when it was shot down in an act of "blatant aggression."
These incidents showed that not only was Turkey politically rivaling Damascus but it was also challenging it militarily. This also served to prevent the Syrian army from monitoring its training and aid to extremists as well as hinder its operations along the Turkish-Syrian border.
In February 2015, Turkish tanks and armored vehicles rolled into Syria through Kobani to evacuate the Turkish military garrison guarding the Suleyman Shah tomb and move the remains to a different site. This move amounted to a violation of Syria’s sovereignty as the Turkish military did not ask permission from Syria to carry out the mission.
Turkey has also bombarded Kurds who were fighting against terrorist groups in northern Syria.
On 24 August 2016, a direct military intervention was declared. While Ankara claimed it aimed to target both ISIS and Kurds, it was evident that its involvement would only benefit the extremists.
After calling for a “No-fly zone” in northern Aleppo governorate in a bid to thwart the major advances by the Syrian army and its ally in February, the Turks were frustrated at their failure to garner support. Then, they pressed for ground operations in Syria.
On August 24 2016, Turkish armed forces entered Syria.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a month later that the Turkish military launched its operations in Syria to end the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He was then forced to retract his statement. His ensuing frustration was attributed to the failure of his government’s Syria policies.
Cengiz Candar wrote for al-Monitor: “The fate of Aleppo has the potential to seal the fate of [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan's regime in Turkey. Too many of Erdogan's eggs are placed in the basket of northern Syrian geopolitics, and most of them are likely to crack.”
Now that Aleppo has been liberated, and mistakes are being acknowledged, it seems that Ankara will have to bury its head in the sand to save itself the embarrassment. However, having made so many disparaging errors in their handling of the crisis next door, neither the Syrian people nor their government will forget where Erdogan’s government stood in times of trouble.