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Turkey 'planned Syria offensive against Isis for two years'

Various geopolitical events meant the ground incursion was delayed, it is claimed 

Will Worley
Friday 26 August 2016 12:26 BST
Video shows tanks on the Turkey/Syria border

The Turkish ground incursion into northern Syria was planned for more than two years but was delayed by alleged plotters in the failed coup earlier this year, it has been claimed.

Operation Euphrates Shield was launched to support Syrian rebels to retake the town of Jarablus, close to the Turkish border. It was the first Turkish ground intervention in the Syrian conflict and targeted both Isis and Syrian-Kurdish rebels backed by the US.

Now, an official has claimed the operation was delayed for two years while various far reaching geopolitical events played out in Turkey and Syria.

“Influential” personnel within the military, believed to be involved with the failed coup in July delayed the operation with “excuses”, the source told AFP news agency. In particular, one senior officer, Brigadier General Semih Terzi, was given as an example. Brig Gen Terzi was shot dead on the night of the coup.

Other officers implicated in the coup held senior positions in Turkey’s volatile southern region. General Adem Huduti was commander of Turkey's Second Army - the division in charge of south-eastern Turkey and the borders with Iraq, Syria and Iran – but removed from his post after the failed putsch.

In addition, Turkey wanted to avoid escalating international tensions after a Russian fighter plane was shot down by a Turkish F16 in November 2015. Russian forces have been present in Syria since last year, allied with the government of Bashar al-Assad.

The Kremlin saw the downing of the Russian plane, which resulted in the death of a pilot, as an extreme provocation and relations between the two countries deteriorated rapidly.

Turkey halted air patrols over Syria after the incident, which meant the military was unable to give air cover to any ground operations in the country. "It became practically impossible to implement our plans due to a lack of air cover," the source told AFP.

However, in June, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan apologised for the incident, in a bid to repair the relationship with the Kremlin. Russia has been wary of other international forces becoming involved in the Syrian conflict but relations between the two countries improved and the "the ground incursion could practically go forward," according to the source.

Also, the US doubted the ability of Syrian forces to recapture the town, the source said, adding: "Their basic argument was that the number of moderate rebels was simply not enough to perform the task of liberating Jarabulus and other parts of northern Syria."

In March, Turkish officials had passed Washington a list of 1,800 “moderate fighters” who would participate in the operation, saying 600 more fighters would be available. Around 2,000 rebel fighters actually participated in the attack, according to Al Jazeera.

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