The military drills involving tanks and armored military vehicles are under way in seven different locations near the border, including the Suruç, Akçakale and Ceylanpınar districts of the province of Şanlıurfa as well as in the border provinces of Kilis, Hatay and Mardin.
The maneuvers follow a series of reinforcements made along the border, which came in the wake of seizures made by Kurdish groups, including the Syrian PKK-affiliate Democratic Union Party (PYD), of several Kurdish-populated cities along the Turkish border over the past two weeks. The military preparedness measures have intensified after news that the PYD had captured two Turkish journalists in Aleppo according to a Turkish official who spoke to Today’s Zaman on conditions of anonymity.
Cihat Arpacık of the Milli Gazete and Kemal Gümüş of the Star daily, who were in Syria’s embattled city of Aleppo covering clashes between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), were detained by PYD forces on Wednesday in the city of Afrin in the Aleppo governorate. The two men were released in the village of Adenen, also in the Aleppo governorate, following efforts by the FSA to secure their release on Thursday morning. The FSA members brought both journalists to a border gate between Syria and Turkey in the southern Turkish province of Hatay.
One of the Turkish military drills is under way in the Çağlar village in Mardin, just 10 kilometers to the north of the Syrian city of Qamishli, the biggest Syrian Kurdish city to have fallen into Kurdish hands. Some 30 tanks and 10 armored personnel carriers took part in the maneuver. The tanks moved into firing position as part of the exercise while the armored carriers backed troop deployment and tank attacks. The drill is expected to continue for a week.
In Suruç, a separate drill involving tanks and missile batteries is taking place only a few hundred meters away from the Syrian border. The batteries have been repositioned to target Kobani, one of the cities controlled by Kurdish groups in Syria.
Turkey has repeatedly bombed and sent troops into parts of Kurdish-run northern Iraq where the PKK has camps. But there has been no indication that Turkish troops would cross the border with Syria, although NATO-member Turkey has warned any attack emanating from a PKK presence in northern Syria could give the country reason to intervene.
The United States, Turkey’s NATO ally, on the other hand, appears to be reluctant towards any Turkish intervention in Syria. When asked about the recent Turkish military build-up along the Syrian border, Patrick Ventrell, director of the Press Office at the US State Department, said further militarization of the situation should be avoided.
“We are obviously in discussion with our Turkish ally constantly on Syria. We continue to think that we don’t want to further militarize the situation. We obviously understand that they have their national security interests as well, but we don’t think that further militarization right now is the way to go,” he said at a press conference on Wednesday.
Ventrell said the Syrian opposition continued to “gain ground in Syria and has started to hold greater territory.”
“I don’t think we are at a point where we are going to see -- or we are hearing greater calls for an immediate external military operations into Syria,” he said.
Further asked if the US is delivering any advice to Turkey, Ventrell said: “The public message that I said here, that we don’t want and don’t think that further militarization is the way to go right now, is the same thing that we’re delivering in private.”