Turkey has ended the Euphrates Shield military operation it launched in Syria last August, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said, but suggested there might be more cross-border campaigns to come.
Turkey sent troops, tanks and warplanes to support Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels push Islamic State fighters away from its border and stop the advance of Kurdish militia fighters.
“Operation Euphrates Shield has been successful and is finished. Any operation following this one will have a different name,” Yildirim said in an interview with broadcaster NTV.
Under Euphrates Shield, Turkey took the border town of Jarablus on the Euphrates River, cleared Islamic State fighters from a roughly 100-km stretch of the border, then moved south to al-Bab, an Islamic State stronghold where Yildirim said “everything is under control”.
Turkish troops are still stationed in secured regions and along the border. The number of Turkish troops involved in Euphrates Shield has not been disclosed.
One aim was to stop the Kurdish YPG militia from crossing the Euphrates and linking up three mainly Kurdish cantons it holds in northern Syria.
Turkey fears the Syrian Kurds carving out a self-governing territory analogous to Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, a move that might embolden Turkey’s own large Kurdish minority to try to forge a similar territory inside its borders.
It views YPG as the Syrian extension of the Kurdish PKK militant group, which has fought an insurgency in Turkey’s south-east since 1984 and is considered a terrorist group by both the United States and European Union.
With the second largest army in NATO, Turkey is seeking a role for its military in a planned offensive on Raqqa, one of Islamic State’s two de facto capitals along with Mosul in Iraq – but the United States is veering towards enlisting YPG.