Erdogan threatens to launch military operation against Syria Kurd militia ‘within days’

Turkey will start an operation east of the Euphrates river in northern Syria in a "few days" President Tayyip Erdogan said. (File/AFP)
Updated 12 December 2018

Erdogan threatens to launch military operation against Syria Kurd militia ‘within days’

  • “It is time to go through with our decision to wipe out terror groups”
  • Turkey considers the YPG’s presence along its border, which spans more than 700 km with Syria, a serious domestic security threat

ANKARA: Turkey will launch a military operation east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria "within a few days," Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told politicians in Ankara on Wednesday.

“It is time to go through with our decision to wipe out terror groups,” he said at the Turkish Defense Industry Summit. “Our target is never American soldiers, but rather, members of the US-backed, Kurdish YPG militia.”

Turkey considers the YPG’s presence along its border, which spans more than 700 km with Syria, a serious domestic security threat. 

Erdogan’s statement came just days after Turkish Armed Forces ramped up military reinforcements to surround the region from both sides. 

This will be Turkey’s third military cross-border operation in Syria since 2016, but it would be the first time Turkish troops have progressed towards the eastern side of the Euphrates. 

The last operation, which was conducted in March, removed the YPG from the Syrian northwest border province of Afrin. 

Oytun Orhan, a Syria expert at the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM), an Ankara-based think tank, said a potential operation would take a fairly long time and would not cover a specific area, unlike the previous two Turkish operations in Syria. 

Orhan said Turkey would likely establish a five to 10 km buffer zone along its border and would try to expand its zone of influence in other directions. 

“Turkish armed forces will avoid any direct contact with US soldiers and will take into consideration the location of American bases and observation points by expecting in return that the US troops would not get closer to the Turkish operation zone,” he told Arab News. 

American observation posts have been recently installed in northern Syria, allegedly to prevent clashes between Turkish army and the YPG. Ankara, however, sees this move as a “stalling tactic.” 

“It is clear that US observation points in Syria are not there to protect our country from terrorists, but to protect terrorists from Turkey,” said Erdogan. 

On the other hand, Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently announced that about 40,000 local troops would be trained to “ensure stability” in northern Syria, a statement that seemed to have annoyed Ankara.  

The US has no plans to evacuate the special operations troops currently operating and cooperating with the YPG in the region, which it considers a local partner in the fight against Daesh. 

Orhan thinks that the US may prefer to stop the expansion of the military offensive by giving concessions on Manbij, another YPG-held province in the west of the Euphrates River in which US and Turkish troops have been conducting joint patrols since two months. 

A deal that was brokered between the US and Turkey in June sought the withdrawal of the YPG from Manbij and the joint control of the city by Turkish and American troops.

The YPG has established a direct control in border towns of northern Syrian, such as Tal Abyad, Ain Al-Arab (Kobani), Al-Darbasiyah, Ras Al-Ain, Amuda and Al-Malikiyah.

“There are clear constraints on Turkish action, but Ankara will find a way if it really wants to go,” Aaron Stein, senior resident fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington, told Arab News. 

“Ankara could narrow its goals, launch a small operation on the border, and not need continuous air support. Only time will tell.” 

However, a military offensive against Kurdish stronghold of Kobane is not on the horizon, according to the experts. 

However, military analysts emphasize the importance of aerial support for the success of any cross-border ground operation as the airspace of the region is under the control of the US-led coalition in Syria. 

“It would be too risky and difficult to move on the ground without getting any aerial support. The lack of any permission for Turkish airstrikes would restrict the operational width,” Orhan said. 

Nihat Ali Ozcan, a retired major now serving as a security analyst at Ankara-based think-tank TEPAV, said the military operations have various targets and that the main target of such an operation, whether a political or military one, will become clearer in the coming days. 

“The next few days are of critical importance. Ankara calls on Washington to resolve this issue in a diplomatic way. If not a military operation is likely. It is all about a show of strength,” he told Arab News. 

“If the depth of the military operation is about 10 to 15 km in, then aerial support would not be so crucial. However, Ankara would require aerial support to go 50 to 100 km in.” 

During budget discussions in Turkish parliament in recent days, Vice President Fuat Oktay had already said that disrupting the terror corridor in the eastern bank of the Euphrates was “on Ankara’s agenda.”


How Middle East cities can meet the sustainability challenge

Updated 14 December 2019

How Middle East cities can meet the sustainability challenge

  • With a growing population and diminishing water resources, region's cities face a major challenge
  • Despite tech breakthroughs and growing use of renewable energy, many of the world's cities are ailing

DUBAI: As the cities of today grow into those of the future, they will encounter daunting sustainability challenges.

Arguably, the most significant factor that all urban centers will have to take into account is climate change.

With temperatures projected to rise, new infrastructure and operational challenges will have to be tackled by city authorities.

“We need to manage our greenhouse gas emissions while managing our economy,” said Fahed Al-Hammadi, director of climate change at the UAE’s Ministry of Climate Change.

“We must understand future trends in the region and how we will be affected in different sectors. We must engage with the private sector because we can’t work as a government alone,” he added.

FASTFACT

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Percentage of its lifetime a car in the US is parked on average.

“We need to attract more ‘green’ investors, and ensure that the capacity of renewable energy we’re transitioning to can cope with the transformation.”

Speaking at a recent summit in Dubai on emerging technologies, Al-Hammadi visualized cities of the future contributing to a reduction in emissions — transportation currently contributes a third of total emissions — and thus helping governments achieve their emission-reduction targets.

Senseable City Lab at MIT collects data on car movement to improve urban transport. (Supplied)

Cities’ sustainability will prove a major challenge in the Middle East, a region with a growing population and diminishing water resources.

“Climate change is happening and there are future challenges, but it’s very important, with the structure we have in modern cities, to have an understanding of the impacts and the changes we’re going to experience,” Al-Hammadi said.

One tool that is becoming increasingly important for urban authorities planning for future challenges is data.

Carlo Ratti, director of Senseable City Lab at MIT, said that reliable data is essential for a better understanding of the cities we live in.

He is working on collecting data from the movement of cars to understand transport patterns in a city and how it can be improved.

With the average number of car sensors today ranging from 2,000 to 3,000, Ratti told the EmTech MENA conference that the “ambient sensing platform” can be scaled up to include taxis and used for monitoring a city’s “structural health” (bridges and other infrastructure). Pilot projects are currently being conducted in collaboration with Uber in Singapore, he said. 

“You can radically change the way we move in a city,” Ratti added. “In the US today, a car is parked on average 95 percent of the time. It uses valuable space in our cities as well. But a self-driving system can change that.”

Ratti  offered the example of the 1.37 million parking spots in Singapore, 70 percent of which can be cut with autonomous cars. 

His work encompasses traffic lights as well, whereby cars will be able to detect intersections, removing the need for such lights.

Meanwhile, in Amsterdam self-driving boats that can be used as floating platforms for temporary bridges are being deployed to configure the city in an increasingly dynamic way.

Self-driving boats are used as temporary bridges in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Supplied)

“The beauty of technology isn’t about creating new needs. It’s about doing things in a different and better way,” Ratti said.

Experts have jumped to cities’ defense by trying to make them more resilient as they face the twin onslaughts of overpopulation (55 percent of the planet’s 7.4 billion people live in urban areas) and climate change (rising sea levels due to global warming threaten to wipe out many coastal cities).

The health sector will need an overhaul to cater for the evolving needs of the cities of the future. 

A pioneer in this area is BioBot, a US biotech company that measures the concentration of drugs that are excreted in urine and collected in sewerage systems.

“We measure opioids in sewage to estimate consumption in cities, counties and states,” says BioBot’s website. “We map this data, empowering communities to tackle the opioid epidemic in real time.”

By mapping a city’s wastewater network and studying the demographic information associated with that data, more effective public-health policies can be created, said Newsha Ghaeli, the company’s co-founder and president.

“A human health crisis affecting communities, such as measles, polio, obesity or diabetes, is only heard about when the crisis turns into a catastrophe,” Ghaeli said.

“But it doesn’t have to be this way. We imagine a city where every person can contribute to a database about our health and we’re building it, based on a concept called wastewater epidemiology.”

For instance, human urine is an important pathological sample, and so can be regarded as a rich source of information embedded in city sewers.

“You need a lot of different disciplines and industries working together to make sense of this data, like engineers, chemists, biologists, public health, urban planners, water and sewers, elected officials, data scientists and public works,” Ghaeli said. “So we’re the first company in the world to commercialize data from sewage.”

Hardware units are installed inside manholes, hanging a few feet above the sewer flow, with tubes that capture bacteria and study the chemical profile. BioBot’s team of scientists then looks at the human bacteria, viruses and chemicals. 

“There’s so much we can learn from wastewater,” Ghaeli said. “We chose to tackle, first, the opioid epidemic, which is the leading cause of accidental death of Americans under 50.”

However, recent studies have shown that less than 1 percent of those who suffer from  opioid use disorder are dying. 

“So it doesn’t matter how you slice or dice the data, we just don’t have the information,” Ghaeli said. “What’s clear is that we’re measuring the wrong thing, so we are now measuring 30 different drugs and looking at emerging trends in drugs.”

The first town to test the system was Cary in North Carolina, where overdoses decreased by 40 percent last year for the first time in half a decade, Ghaeli said.

Pavegen’s tech captures energy from pedestrian footsteps to power street lighting. (Supplied)

During a six-month pilot program, BioBot was also able to create a heat map to pinpoint areas where overdoses were concentrated.

Despite such technological breakthroughs, and the fact that an estimated 33 percent of the world’s energy is now derived from renewable sources, many of the world’s most densely populated cities are ailing.

“Cities have been built for machines — cars and planes — and some have forgotten about the people,” said Laurence Kemball-Cook, CEO of Pavegen.

The technology company has developed paving slabs to convert energy from citizens’ footsteps into “energy, data and rewards.”

He said: “I’m on a mission to try to make our cities greener. There is a big challenge in urban areas.”

To achieve his goal, Kemball-Cook turned to kinetic energy, capturing the energy from pedestrians’ footsteps to power streetlights.

So far, the kinetic-energy system has been used in Nigeria, London, Abu Dhabi Airport, Thailand and Birmingham, as well as on a running track in Hong Kong.

“We’re excited about the vision of the future city,” he said, adding that he hopes to take Pavegen’s technology to Expo 2020 in Dubai and Neom in Saudi Arabia.

“The potential of using human power in our cities is huge. The technology in a city has to work with the people,” Kemball-Cook said.

“A city isn’t just about finding a new energy solution, it has to be about wellness, smart (practices), fun, sustainable and connecting into the Internet of Things data layout,” he added.