Tuesday into Wednesday has witnessed heavy fighting between Kurdish YPG and Turkish forces along the Syrian border town of Kobane, at a moment Turkish President Erdogan's planned large scale cross-border offensive looms. Already there are Turkish media reports claiming that a Turkish military convoy has entered Jarablus, northern Syria - with unverified social media photos circulating that purport to show convoys amassing.
Turkish shelling of Syrian Kurdish positions has reportedly killed and wounded civilians including a 14-year old child. And a series of airstrikes have hit Syrian government border posts, killing 17. However, it's unclear how many among these were Syrian national troops, Kurdish militia fighters, or pro-government militia members who fight alongside the army.
"Seventeen fighters were killed in Turkish air strikes that hit several Syrian regime outposts... near the Turkish border," one pro-opposition war monitor told Middle East Eye. Turkish military officials have said they've killed five Kurdish militants in the fresh assault.
Turkey's defense ministry said one of its soldiers was killed in a Kurdish counter-strike with artillery. A statement said that on the Syrian side of the border "Thirteen terrorists were neutralized" in "retaliation".
A Syrian government statement said meanwhile that "Any attack on a military outpost run by our armed forces will be met with a direct and immediate response on all fronts," according to state-run SANA.
So far throughout the war in Syria, Turkey has conducted three major cross border operations going back to 2016, in efforts to prevent any level of Kurdish autonomy from forming, as part of what it deems border stabilization efforts. At the same time it has long supported jihadist groups which seek to ethnically cleanse Kurds, while at the same time trying to topple the Syrian government under Bashar al-Assad.
Over the period, Turkey has seized hundreds of kilometers of Syrian sovereign territory and has effectively pushed the de facto border demarcating control some 30km deep into Syria. The United States, which has limited forces on the ground (most estimates are between 1,000 to 2,000 special forces soldiers), has tended to stay out of Turkey's way, despite Kurds making up the bulk of the US-backed and trained Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Both Ukrainian 🇺🇦 and Russian 🇷🇺 Telegram are going full-out nuts that a war is starting between (Russian 🇷🇺 backed) Syria 🇸🇾 & (NATO (🇺🇸) backed) Turkey 🇹🇷 over the Kurds.— Jason Jay Smart (@officejjsmart) August 17, 2022
Big wars have a tendency of starting when large countries fight over smaller nations. pic.twitter.com/co5yrKoXre
Interestingly, all of this comes as over the past week there have been substantial rumors of official contacts and talks between the Syrian and Turkish foreign ministries. For example, last week Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu for the first time publicly urged reconciliation between the Syrian government and the so-called "rebel" groups, even though Turkey has long used the very same jihadist groups as proxies to wage war on the Syrian state.
His comments were seen as an apparent easing of Ankara’s longstanding hostility towards al-Assad’s government and enraged the Syrian opposition and rebel groups. But this latest Turkish attack on Syrian border posts strongly signals continued hostility and friction between Ankara and Damascus for the immediate future.