Pictures of alleged Turkish special ops in Syria circulate on social media
One picture shows a person in camouflage holding two sniper rifles. The person, who has a blackened face, is allegedly a Turkish Special Forces soldier stationed near the embattled city of Aleppo.
Another picture posted on social media shows a camouflaged man with an assault rifle, allegedly near the Syrian town of Jarablus, close to the border with Turkey.
More pictures, including ones posted on Twitter, can also be found on several military forums. Turkey launched a ground incursion into Syria in August using infantry, tanks and artillery backed up by the Turkish Air Force.
The stated goal was to drive back Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) jihadists from the territories close to the Turkey-Syria border, including near the town of Jarablus.
However, Ankara has also been targeting Kurdish fighters from the YPG (People’s Protection Units). Turkey claimed the units assisted forces from the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) inside Turkey.
Ankara considers the PKK to be a terrorist organization. Turkey-backed Syrian opposition from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have been also taking part in the fight alongside Turkish forces.
In mid-October the FSA, aided by Turkish troops, recaptured the town of Dabiq from jihadists. Reports also surfaced of the FSA clashing with the Kurdish YPG in October near the town of Tal Rifaat.
The Syrian government has branded the Turkish operation a “blatant violation of sovereignty,” adding that “replacing” Islamic State with “other terrorist organizations backed directly by Turkey” cannot be regarded as a fight against terrorism.
And Ankara is apparently planning more operations on Syrian soil. FSA rebels, backed by Turkey, are currently advancing on a key IS-stronghold, a city called Al-Bab some 40km northeast of Aleppo.
However the town, which is also located just 30 kilometers away from the Turkish border, is being contested by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Gains by the SDF in the region around Al-Bab in late October prompted clashes with the Turkish backed FSA, Reuters reported.
Once Al-Bab is captured, Ankara vows to continue its operation and seize the town of Manbij, a further 50km northeast of Al Bab. The plan was announced by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on October 26 in Ankara. Manbij is currently held by the Kurdish forces who liberated it from Islamic State jihadists in August.
"They [Kurds] will either leave the region immediately, move to the east of the Euphrates [river] or we will do what is necessary," Erdogan cautioned the Kurdish forces in Manbij and the surrounding area, as cited by Daily Sabah.
According to the Turkish leader his country is also mulling action in Syria’s northern territories close to the Turkish town of Kilis, just over 10km from the Syria border, citing a “terrorist” threat. In April this year Turkey reinforced its troops in Kilis following several rocket attacks coming from Syrian territory, controlled by IS.
Meanwhile Ankara might also have its say in what happens next to the Syrian city of Raqqa.On October 6, Kurdish-led forces backed by the US-led coalition started a major offensive to retake the self-proclaimed capital of IS.
“The coalition and Turkey will work together on the long-term plan for seizing, holding and governing Raqqa,” US General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, following a meeting with his Turkish counterpart General Hulusi Akar in Ankara.
The serviceman also noted that the city should be controlled by “predominantly Arab and Sunni Arab force” with the Free Syrian Army being one such unit.
‘Turkey wants to prevent Kurdish autonomy’
Retired US Army General Paul Vallely told RT that although it is hard to evaluate whether the pictured persons are Turkish special operators, there might be a motive for using such troops in Syria.
"The Turks have always had interest in northern Iraq and northern Syria because of the Kurdish situation and their problems with the Kurds trying to establish a separate government there," Vallely said.
According to the ex-serviceman the conflict between the Kurds and Ankara, wherever it emerges, will not die down, resulting in continuous fighting.
"The Turks are never going to be happy... with the implication and the involvement of the Kurds anywhere, so it's always[going to] be a fight in the future."
The potential presence of Turkish special operators near Aleppo would suit the interests of Turkey, among which are "to forbid the Syrian army of taking the eastern Aleppo," Jamal Wakim, Professor for International relations at Lebanese University told RT.
"So I believe it could be a possibility for the Turkish troops to be supporting insurgents in Eastern Aleppo against the Syrian government and Russian troops," Wakim said.
The expert went on to say that Turkey is effectively eyeing a buffer zone inside Syria and Iraq "in order to forbid any attempt by the Kurds to establish an autonomous or even an independent state.
"If Turkey succeeds in establishing a buffer zone in northern Syria and in northern Iraq, in case two countries get divided it will have the right and the possibility to annex this territories into Turkey. And this is what goes in the mind of the Turkish leadership," he said.