Constrained from a substantial military incursion into Syria by US President Barack Obama’s veto and Saudi and Qatari refusals to help pay for it, Turkey’s government and military decided to make do with carving out a buffer strip 10 kilometers deep into Syria by continuous artillery barrages.
Thursday morning, Oct. 4 at 0300 GMT, Ankara ordered the Turkish army to keep up its cross-border shelling of Syria after the first bombardment Wednesday night in response to the deaths of five Turkish civilians and eight injured by Syrian mortar shells which exploded in their village.
debkafile's military sources report the artillery squads were told to aim primarily at Syrian military targets inside this strip, including bases, outposts and Syrian forces on the move.
Several Syrian bases and outposts have been hit so far and a large number of Syrian soldiers killed or wounded. Neither Ankara nor Damascus is offering information on casualties. They have imposed a heavy blackout on events so as to keep them under control and avoid the risk of a full-blown war.
It was the first time in the 18-month Syrian uprising that Turkey had staged military action against Syria.
The first Turkish barrage was fired as NATO foreign ministers met in emergency session in Brussels and the UN Security Council in New York condemned Syria.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also harshly condemned the Syrian shelling but did not commit to any action against Syria except to state that Washington stands behind Ankara
According to our sources, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s hands are tied. When he asked Washington in the last 48 hours whether the Syrian attack would serve as the pretext for imposing a no-fly zone over northern and central Syria with US Air Force participation, the Turkish prime minister encountered a flat refusal.
He was told by administration officials that the president would not change his mind about withholding US military intervention in Syria – especially after US intelligence briefed him last week that, according their latest assessment, Syrian President Bashar Assad would not hold out more than another six months. That is, until February-March 2013 at latest.
At the same time, say debkafile's Washington sources, the White House did not rule out a limited Turkish border operation for forcing Syrian troops to go on the run and giving the Syrian rebels greater freedom of movement to cross back and forth for arms supplies and medical treatment.
We reported in September that Turkish officers had taken command of two Syrian rebel brigades, the North Liberators and the Tawhid Brigade, which operate mostly in Aleppo. Turkish officers orchestrate their operations without crossing into Syria themselves.
By the saturation bombardment of the 10-kilometer strip inside Syria, Turkey plans to drive the Syrian military presence out and enable the two rebel brigades to move in and start establishing a 50-kilometer long protected corridor from Aleppo up to the Killis region of southern Turkey.
The big question is how long will Syrian President Bashar Assad tolerate Turkish artillery control of this border strip without fighting back. This decision is not only up to Assad but also to Tehran and Hizballah, both of which are deploying large-scale military strength in Syria in his support.