An armed Kurdish fighter surveys the area from an elevation near the town of Azaz on the Syrian-Turkish border.Valery Sharifulin/TASS
The Turkish military continues to advance south in Syria. According to the Turkish newspaper Haber, Turkish units have stopped 11 km (7 miles) to the north of Manbij, (20 miles to the west of the Euphrates River).
The paper says the military is waiting for Kurdish detachments to leave the city. If they retreat, Turkey will be able to open a corridor to Aleppo for the Syrian opposition, said Butuhan Yasar, a Turkish expert on the Middle East, in an interview with the Azerbaijani publication Trend.
The next goal of the Turkish operation, according to presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin, is Al-Bab, a large town halfway between Aleppo and the border town of Jarabulus, and an Islamic State stronghold in the area.
Kurdish troops are also aiming for Al-Bab in a bid to unite with the territories they control in the west of the country.
According to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s press secretary, this task is being complicated by Kurdish advances towards the liberated city of Jarabulus.
“We are no longer speaking of any deadline for the Kurds to retreat to the east bank of the Euphrates. We simply demand a retreat as soon as possible,” said Kalin.
According to Leonid Isayev, a senior lecturer at the department of political sciences at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, Al-Bab could become the scene of a serious confrontation between the Kurds and Turkey.
The Russian side condemns the Turkish operation but is refraining from criticizing Turkey too harshly, says Gumer Isayev, head of the St. Petersburg-based Center of Contemporary Middle East Studies, adding that there is a certain degree of coordination between Russia and Turkey.
Isayev predicts that, overall, Turkey’s intervention will not change the balance of forces between the powers taking part in the conflict – Russia and the United States.
“There are reports that Russia and Turkey have reached a number of agreements on where the Turkish troops and their allies should enter,” said Grigory Melamedov, an Orientalist.
He adds that in the province of Aleppo the territory in question is the city of Al-Bab. “In Hama, the situation is more complicated. For the time being, there is no concrete border there,” said Melamedov.
Timur Akhmetov, a columnist with Russia Direct, cited Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik as saying that the operation had been agreed with the Russian, Iranian and even Syrian authorities.
It is hard to imagine that Moscow would have allowed Ankara to increase its influence in the region just like that, without demanding anything in return, argued Akhmetov, pointing out that Turkish officials appear to have changed their stance on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“Turkey may consider al-Assad as a future intermediary,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said at the end of August. For the first time in the five-year conflict, Turkey is prepared to consider the current Syrian government as part of a future transition period, he concludes.
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