ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey has ended the “Euphrates Shield” military operation it launched in Syria last August, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Wednesday, 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 (60-mile) 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 the 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 westwards 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 the YPG as the Syrian extension of the Kurdish PKK militant group, which has fought an insurgency in Turkey’s southeast 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 toward enlisting the YPG.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey is saddened by the U.S. and Russian readiness to work with the YPG in Syria.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; editing by Andrew Roche)