On Tuesday, August 16, Turkey conducted 12 airstrikes, targeting Kurdish fighters and Syrian government forces. With 17 confirmed fatalities, this operation is expected to increase turbulence in the countries’ already uprooted relationship. While Turkey has aimed to prevent the establishment of an independent Kurdish state — a development that could threaten Turkish nationalism, sovereignty, and influence — its operations in the region are complicated through the lens of the Syrian civil war and the war on terror in the region.
Since 2016, Turkey has conducted three cross-border military operations in Syria aimed at deterring the People's Defense Units (YPG) and expelling U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in northern Syria. Notably, according to the Middle East Eye, these series of operations have “rarely resulted in the killing of Syrian government fighters. If government forces are confirmed to be among those killed on Tuesday, the attack would mark one of the largest escalations since Ankara and Damascus traded attacks in 2020 following a Syrian government strike that killed 33 Turkish soldiers in the northwestern province of Idlib.”
The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) confirmed the existence of regime fatalities, thus affirming Tuesday’s attacks as unprecedented events. Cited in the Daily Sabah: “At least three Syrian regime soldiers were among the dead and six were wounded in the Turkish raids, said the official SANA news agency… ‘Any attack on a military outpost run by our armed forces will be met with a direct and immediate response on all fronts,’ SANA said.”
Regardless of the attacks’ potential impact on Ankara-Damascus relations, the strikes shook Kobane, a Kurdish-majority town on the Turkish-Syrian border. Described in Arab News through the perspective of a local shopkeeper, “people started running everywhere, cars everywhere, people asking about their friends and their family. Then the sounds started to build, the sounds were everywhere.. There was so much screaming. So much fear. Now everyone is locked up at home.”
Turkey’s defense ministry asserted that 13 terrorists were neutralized in the attacks and President Erdoğan identified this operation as a response to active threats against Turkey. The Turkish Minute explored Ankara’s specific objectives of last week’s strikes: “President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Friday that Turkey was not looking to seize any Syrian territory despite stepping up its attacks against Kurdish forces in the war-torn country’s north…Turkey said it was responding to a strike on its own positions along the border that killed two soldiers.”
Regional sources further cited President Erdogan’s efforts to ease public concerns regarding Turkey’s attacks. Al Alrabiya stated that “Erdogan appeared to try and calm the tensions in comments to reporters…‘We do not have eyes on the territory of Syria because the people of Syria are our brothers.’ Turkish media quoted Erdogan as saying. ‘The regime must be aware of this.’”
Prior to recent complications in Turkish-Syrian relations, on August 11, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu called for reconciliation between the Syrian country and the Syrian regime. Explained in The National News, Çavuşoğlu urged “‘We need to bring the opposition and regime together for reconciliation somehow, there will be no permanent peace otherwise.’ Mr Cavusoglu met his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad and said that contact between intelligence services of Turkey and Syria had resumed. Turkey's top diplomat said it was vital that Syria maintained a strong central government to ‘prevent the disintegration of the country’ and this would only be possible by uniting various factions of the country.”