10 kilometers to Armageddon

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Merve Şebnem Oruç

The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) launched Operation Euphrates Shield in Jarablus, a city in the Aleppo province of northern Syria, by clearing the city of Daesh elements. On the 11th day of the operation, tanks belonging to the TSK crossed into the Syrian town of al-Rai from the Elbeyli district in southern Turkish province of Kilis, starting the second critical phase of the operation. According to the initial information received from the border, Daesh resisted, leading to clashes between the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Daesh. While Daesh-held areas were under intense Fırtına howitzer fire, it was stated that Daesh responded to the operation with howitzers.

Turkey was carrying out an operation long before Operation Euphrates Shield launched to clear the 90-kilometer Azaz-Jarablus line on the other side of the border between the Kilis and Karkamış and secure it. The area between the Azaz and al-Rai stretch was secured by eliminating Daesh from here through canon fires from Fırtına howitzers and the FSA groups supported on the inside. The Jarablus operation was actually the second phase in terms of securing the border line. After the TSK took over an approximately 20-kilometer wide and 24-25-kilometer deep area by crossing over to Syria from the west of the Euphrates and advancing toward the west, this time, with the al-Rai operation it started in the third phase, it started to advance toward the east. The course of the operation progressing more rapidly than expected shows that the approximately 25-kilometer area across the Turkish border remaining under Daesh control is also projected to be cleared shortly.

Up to this point there really isn’t much of a problem. However, as the issue goes further in and deeper, it will likely become thorny. The first of the questions that emerge in this context is the issue of whether the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which entered the west of Euphrates from the south and further in, will be purged from Manbij. In other words, will there be a comprehensive operation aimed at Manbij? The answer to this question is currently on hold as it will also reveal the U.S.’s direct involvement in the matter and the kind of Syria it dreams of in the future. It will not happen soon, but eventually it will get to this.

Another issue is what action the YPG will take in relation to advancing from a lower position on the map, in other words, from the south of Mare to the east and from Manbij to the west to join Afrin and Kobani to form the Democratic Union Party (PYD) corridor despite everything, and what the U.S. will do in this regard.

The YPG trying this week to advance from both Manbij and Afrin to the critical city of al-Bab, which is in the middle of both areas and under Daesh control, is an indication that the corridor dream is still kept alive. The confirmation that Daesh’s spokesman Abu Mohamed al-Adnani was killed in the al-Bab region this week, one of the most critical elements of the terrorist organization’s propaganda tool, provides us critical information in this context. In addition to the polemic about whether Adnani was killed in airstrikes by Russian jets or U.S. jets being ridiculous, it serves another purpose. The murder of a critical figure from Daesh’s top management such as Adnani, once more legitimizes the support to the PYD/YPG within the scope of the fight against Daesh and veils the objective behind YPG forces’ advance toward al-Bab, which is to complete the corridor. With the Turkey-backed FSA turning toward al-Rai, al-Bab, it is highly likely that we will see intertwined clashed in the confined space in question. In other words, the process after al-Rai might not be as calm as the first 11 days of Operation Euphrates Shield.

However, Daesh showing intense resilience to the TSK and FSA forces in the town of Dabiq, 10 kilometers from the Turkish border, before al-Bab, and in fact allowing the YPG to approach al-Bab from the Manbij side as it tries to resist to avoid losing Dabiq to the FSA, is a possibility that should not be undermined. Daesh-held Dabiq is also the name given to the sensational magazine published by the terrorist organization. Dabiq has such significance for Daesh, because they believe that the Armageddon – mentioned in some hadith – or World War II is going to start here. It is certain that, similar to some Jews and Evangelists calling doomsday, Daesh is also waiting for the Armageddon to start. As a matter of fact, the Gülenist Terror Organization (FETÖ) seeing their leader Fethullah Gülen as the Mahdi includes them into the group of those calling doomsday. Meanwhile, the idea that time will come to an end with a war that breaks out in Syria has long been accepted in Iran. Hence, in addition to its political and strategic aspects, a war in Dabiq and around it bears important religious elements as well.

As for the PYD corridor, its being built from the south of the 90-kilometer area that we can call the Jarablus-Mare line means Turkey’s disconnection from the Arab world and the opposition forces it supports being confined in this region that will turn into a pocket. Hence, preventing the formation of this corridor – whether from the edge of the border or a little further in – is no less important for Turkey than the issue of establishing a physical safe zone in the 90-kilometer area in question. It is clear that this struggle, which we can imagine will be anything but short lasting, is not going to be between Turkey and the opposition forces it supports and the YPG and Daesh – that after a certain point, the U.S. and Russia are going to become involve. However, it is not that difficult to guess that eventually, the regime that has sieged Aleppo and even Iran will not remain outside this frame In short, high adrenaline days await us.

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