A short analysis and some reflections on the Turkish Incursion To Syria (Operation Euphrates’s Shield)
Is there an exit strategy for Turkey other than total failure?
It is not surprising that Turkish Syrian foreign policy is currently stuck in the town of El-Bab, name meaning “The Gate”. El-Bab is historically defined as a gate towards Aleppo. That also indicates the intent of the Operation Euphrates Shield. Erdogan’s Sunni sectarian/political ambitions started off this operation on the wrong foot. It was prepared hastily in the middle of the biggest purge Turkish Armed Forces had seen. Experienced cadre that had been resisting to adventurous ambitions of the regime, was being replaced with new opportunists looking for glory.
During the first stage of the operation, Jerablus was captured without intense fighting and was presented as a great military success by mouth-piece media. Later on, a captured ISIS member would reveal that ISIS did not fight back at this first stage, but simply blended into the population by cutting their beards. The media glory did not last long, disaster struck at Al-Bab where Free Syrian Army had already been failing against ISIS stronghold. By this time the affiliated Free Syrian Army (FSA) had already turned out to be a failure against ISIS strongholds in the vicinity of Al-Bab. Turkish Special Forces captured villages and turned them over to FSA, who abandoned the villages by the next morning. Even the start of the operation for Al-Bab was postponed several times because the FSA was not ready.
There are many causes for the stall Turkish forces are experiencing in Al-Bab. The first apparent factor seems to be lack of intelligence. The ongoing operation seems to be conducted without adequate intelligence on the operational area. The lack of targeting info could be the reason why artillery shelling was preferred. Needless to say, this non-precision approach brings the risk of fratricide and civilian casualties with it. Already, some sources have claimed that hundreds of civilians died because of TUR artillery shelling and air attacks. And also one of the important things that needs to be highlighted here is the fact that Turkish military is short of air to ground guided missiles, that is why Turkish officials made an official meeting with South Korea to receive PGM (precision guided missile) kits as an urgent operational requirement. Based on this shortage it is already known that Turkish jets are mostly dropping classic, not-guided bombs to Jerablus and Al-Bab.
Based on dozens of media reports by human rights organizations there have been hundreds of civilian casualties as a result of the Turkish artillery’s imprecise shelling and the Air Force’s use of unguided (dumb) bombs. This could be because the stockpile of Precision Guided Munitions (PGM) is extremely low.
Another intelligence/planning failure was the lack of appreciation for the types of weapons enemy has. Strategic planners (if many are left after the massive purge!) at Turkish General Staff should have known that, ISIS had access to sophisticated anti tank guided missiles (ATGM) weapons and had been using them in the field extensively, and should have planned accordingly. Also related is the terrain factor. Using the relatively permissive flat terrain, ISIS was able to move freely and quickly which enabled them to hunt tanks and other armored carriers with ease. Timing of the operation is not in concert with the choice of Armor either. Armor needs large logistics support which can be a nightmare in winter. The disconcerted planning and execution of the operation has led to appalling results. Credible sources stated that, contrary to public statements by the Turkish General Staff, 54 tanks have been destroyed / damaged so far. Losses are great yet gains are tiny. Despite the overwhelming conventional superiority enjoyed, even the logistics lines of ISIS, used for reinforcements and evacuations, are not cut yet.
C2 (command and control) of the operation is a perplexing matter by itself. One of the shocking details of this ongoing operation (from credible senior sources) is that there is NO Joint Strategic Operational Plan (OPLAN). Hence there is no joint understanding of the whole campaign. Normally, there must be an official political directive to military planners stating the objectives (desired end state) for the use of force. For an operation of this magnitude an operational plan (OPLAN) at joint level is a must in order to determine the lines of operation and align the lines of effort. The OPLAN is the cornerstone for the synchronization of efforts and proper execution of the operation. However, what I know (from credible resources) that the plan is just a few power point slides with arrows and timings (at the scale of months). According to this so called CONOPS (Concept of Operations); 3 months were envisaged for control of Jarablus, likewise 3 months for Al-Bab, another 3 for Mumbic and just another 3 months for RAKKA!!! (when I first heard it, I thought it was a joke; reflecting back how many months have been spent for Kirkuk by the Us-led coalition forces).
Official reports indicate that the 3 star head of Special Forces (LtGen. Aksakallı, a staunch supporter of Erdogan) is commanding at operational level with this HQ in Silopi / Turkey. I personally know this small HQ, it is not joint, it was built just to coordinate the support of Turkish units in Iraq with Pashmerga. Considering the amount of armor units used, a Special Forces commander with no experience in armor warfare, is not a smart choice. Destroyed tanks in the battle testify to what should have been common sense. I have also heard that LtGen. Aksakallı has sent a report about the failure so far accusing Land Forces Command, according to his report he is accusing armoured and infantry units which is under command of Land Forces Command. As clearly seen at this report one of the basic principles of warfare, unit of command is a waste for this operation.
Rather than acknowledging incompetence, Erdogan regime tried to save face by claiming “Lack of US help to Turkish troops”. Prime minister went as far as claiming that “The others are not doing anything, we are the only ones fighting”. So what was the help they were talking about? Forgetting the fact that US neither agreed with the plan nor promised any help regarding Al-Bab, why was Turkey asking for US help in the first place?
It is obvious that mentioned “help” from US would come from the air, whether being strike or intelligence. Turkish Air Force was used to be paraded as the largest in Europe. With more than 250 fighters, it should be easily able to provide any kind of air support needed. In fact, Turkish General Staff claim 1233 guided munitions strike on 1141 IS targets, yet fails to show any significant effect on enemy will or ability to fight. Either, Air force is operating extremely ineffectively, or these numbers are suspicious. Turkish Air Force is no stranger to this type of scenario, it had major doctrinal changes in fight against PKK towards 2009 which resulted in success between 2010-2011. (Thanks!! to National Intelligence Agency for wrong targets in Uludere and tying hands of military during “Peace process” as Erdogan admitted later on, PKK was able to regroup and restrategize, nulling all the gains). So assuming those numbers are right, what is the source of inefficiency? Could it be that, majority of experienced planners, pilots and intel officers are in jail now? Even some who are not in jail are hard pressed, like Pilots in Diyarbakir who report to police everyday and go fly missions on the same day? Morale of whatever good personnel left is down the drain, as they see personnel getting arrested everyday and wondering when is their turn?
Erdogan has not been shy in expressing his desire of toppling Assad or “Praying in Mosque of Amawi ” in Damascus. After getting rid of the military elite that resisted involvement in Syria, Turkish Armed Forces entered Syria with no clear objective of associated plan. “Town hopping” approach has failed in the first real resistance. Al-Bab operation carries all the marks of politically fueled greedy adventurism, carried out by a crippled force under incompetent leadership. Will the “desire for glory” continue in the wake of upcoming presidential referendum? A military victory or defeat could make all the difference.