Analysts doubt Turkey’s ability to eradicate the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria, following U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from the country, AFP reportedon Wednesday.
Following a phone call with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Trump last week announced that he had decided to pull U.S. troops out of northeastern Syria, adding in a tweet: “President @RT_Erdogan of Turkey has very strongly informed me that he will eradicate whatever is left of ISIS in Syria.”
But Nicholas Heras, an analyst at the Center for a New American Security, called Erdoğan “a victim of his own success” for selling Trump the idea that Turkey could assume the control over the fight against ISIS in Syria.
“Turkey does not currently have a Syrian rebel force that is large enough, experienced enough, or legitimate enough to hold eastern Syria, and it would take many months, even with US support, for Turkey to amass such a force,” he said, referring to Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters backed by Turkey.
According to some analysts, the remaining pockets controlled by ISIS are in eastern and central Syria, away from Turkey’s reach.
“ISIS is close to Boukamal, more than 400km (250 miles) from Turkey, impossible for Turkey to go so far. The Syrian army and Iraqi Shiite militias will handle it after the US withdrawal,” Syria expert Fabrice Balanche told AFP.
Balanche added that Turkey could not even control al-Qaida linked Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) in Idlib, the last major rebel held enclave in northern Syria. According to a deal made by Ankara and Moscow in September, Turkey assumed the responsibility to pull out extremist militants in a demilitarised zone established in Idlib.
Balanche said that what Turkey could do at most was to prevent the resurgence of ISIS by closing its border with Syria to jihadis and carrying out targeted operations, as it did in a 2016 military campaign named Operation Euphrates Shield.
Lina Khatib, director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at London-based Chatham House, said that, despite the assurances he had given to Trump, Erdoğan had no plans to eradicate ISIS.
Leaving the fight against ISIS to Turkey-backed Syrian rebels that are militarily weaker will never be effective and Turkey may also become vulnerable to revenge attacks of ISIS, Khatib said.
A withdrawal of American ground forces in Syria will give Turkey freer rein to target Washington's Kurdish partners in the fight against jihadists but analysts doubt Ankara's capacity to "eradicate" the Islamic State extremist group. Turkish officials have said that President Recep