Having stated in the past that the only reason Turkish forces are on Syrian soil is to combat Islamic State terrorists, today Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a dramatic diplomatic reversal and said that the Turkish Army has entered Syria to end the rule of President Bashar Assad, whom he accused of terrorism and causing the deaths of thousands.
“We entered [Syria] to end the rule of the tyrant al-Assad who terrorizes with state terror. [We didn’t enter] for any other reason,” the Turkish president was quoted by Huyrriyet as saying at the first Inter-Parliamentary Jerusalem Platform Symposium in Istanbul. Erdogan said that Turkey has no territorial claims in Syria, but instead wants to hand over power to the Syrian population, adding that Ankara is seeking to restore “justice.”
“Why did we enter? We do not have an eye on Syrian soil. The issue is to provide lands to their real owners. That is to say we are there for the establishment of justice,” he said, taking a page out of the US playbook, which however in recent weeks has been muted following substantial advances by Syrian and Russian forces which as reported last night, have made material gains in the fight against Syrian rebels in east Aleppo.
Erdogan went on to say that “in his estimation” almost 1 million people have died in the conflict in Syria, although no monitoring group has provided any similar figures according to RT.
The Turkish moral arbiter of all that is right also said that Turkey could not “endure” the unending killing of civilians and “had to enter Syria together with the Free Syrian Army.”
The Turkish leader also accused the UN of inability to influence the situation in Syria and said that the organization is ineffective in its current state. “The world is bigger than five,” he said, referring to the number of permanent members on the UN Security Council, as reported by Hurriyet.
As readers will recall, Turkish troops entered Syria on August 24, launching operation Euphrates Shield. Turkey deployed ground troops and air power to northern parts of its neighboring country, with what then was a stated goal of retaking areas held by Islamic State. However, many observers have said that Ankara aims to suppress Kurdish forces in Syria and prevent them from connecting three de facto autonomous Kurdish areas into one enclave south of the Turkish border.
In October, Turkey’s air forces killed between 160 and 200 fighters of the Kurdish YPG militia group in 26 airstrikes conducted in just one night. The Turkish military campaign in Syria has also led to increasingly strained relations with Assad’s government.
Ankara was forced to halt air support for its ground incursion into Syria on October 22, after Damascus vowed to shoot down Turkish Air Force planes in Syrian skies, accusing Turkey of violating its national sovereignty. Turkey in turn accused the Syrian Army of attacking FSA fighters in the northern Aleppo province.
The announcement is hardly a surprise, coming just one day after what we reported, is set to be Assad's biggest victory since the start of the Syrian war with the imminent capture of rebel-stronghold Aleppo, and whose eastern part had been some 40% "freed" from militants by Syrian government forces, according to the Russian Defence Ministry.
In light of today's latest statement, which according to some is tantamount to a declaration of war by Turkey against a sovereign state, it is unclear what the Syrian response will be to the NATO member. It is also unclear how Russia - which is alligned with the Assad regime - will respond in light of recent overtures by both Erdogan and Putin to bring relations between the two nations closer.