Diary

Erdogan to Expand His Syrian Invasion

Yesterday, I brought up Turkish president Erdogan’s under-reported invasion of Afrin and Manbij provinces in northern Syria, and it looks like his ambitions do not end there.

Turkey is prepared to take its fight against Kurdish forces in northern Syria as far east as Iraq, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said.

Speaking in Ankara, Mr Erdogan reiterated that his forces will move against Kurdish-controlled Manbij, which risks confrontation with the US.

US troops are based in the city, which was taken from the Islamic State group (IS) by Kurdish-led forces in 2016.

Turkey launched its operation against the Kurdish militia last weekend.

Not only that, Erdogan’s deputy prime minister made this ultimatum.

A Turkish official said anyone supporting the YPG militia will become “a target”, a warning likely to rile the United States as its forces work alongside the Kurdish armed group on the ground in northern Syria.

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag’s comments on Thursday came after Turkey threatened to attack the town of Manbij as part of its cross-border operationagainst the Afrin region, controlled by the Kurdish fighters.

The US has about 2,000 soldiers based in Manbij – about 100km east of Afrin – who work with the YPG in fighting Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).

If the US wants to “avoid a confrontation with Turkey – which neither they nor Turkey want – the way to this is clear: they must cut support given to terrorists”, Bozdag told Turkish broadcaster A Haber.

“Those who support the terrorist organisation will become a target in this battle. The United States needs to review its soldiers and elements giving support to terrorists on the ground in such a way as to avoid a confrontation with Turkey,” he said.

The US, i.e., Trump, needs to tell Erdogan to pound sand, particularly since the YPG (the Kurdish People’s Protection Units) have been better than any other indigenous force in fighting the Islamic State. And not only that, tell Putin to stay out of it. Maybe Nikki Haley needs to say a few words as well. The Kurds are calling on Assad to help defend them against this attack on his sovereign territory, but the Syrian dictator is a little busy right now. It really is past time to stand up to the belligerence of this Turkish tin-pot strongman. The Kurds deserve better.

The New York Times has a long-winded piece titled Allies or Terrorists: Who Are the Kurdish Fighters in Syria? Unfortunately, they didn’t really answer the question with an explicit “allies” or “terrorists”, but it’s allies and not terrorists. The only folks calling them terrorists are Erdogan and his people, who have a homegrown problem with the Kurds in Turkey. A couple of fellas at Foreign Policy have devised a way to stop this conflict, but it will take American involvement and American strength. With the Islamic State on the run, we’re in a new phase and it’s time to recognize that.

U.S. officials recently confirmed Washington’s intention to indefinitely retain effective ownership of around 28 percent of Syrian territory, in partnership with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. But those plans are increasingly in conflict with the other major international players in the war-torn country. That includes America’s erstwhile ally, Turkey, which recently launched “Operation Olive Branch,” an incursion into the Kurdish-held Afrin canton in Syria’s northwest. Meanwhile, President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is assaulting mainly Sunni Arab rebels to the south, and completing its conquest of the Abu Duhur airbase in the northern Idlib Province.

And there’s this.

But Assad’s Russian patrons evidently took a different view of the Turkish operation. Russian military personnel in the Kurdish enclave were withdrawn prior to the commencement of the Turkish operation. Turkish aircraft currently being used to bomb Kurdish positions in the Afrin region could not have crossed the border without Russian permission, given the presence of two Russian S-400 air defense batteries guaranteeing that Moscow can rid Syria’s skies of any unwanted presence. Assad’s government was required by the actual decision-makers to tolerate this situation — and true to form, it has not followed through on its threat to shoot down Turkish jets.

Similarly, recent events demonstrate the extent to which the rebellion is no longer essentially a Syrian phenomenon. The rebels taking part in the Afrin operation against Kurdish forces are effectively military contractors working on behalf of Turkish interests. These northern rebel groups — such as Faylaq al-Sham, Nour al-Din al-Zenki, and the Levant Front — have played this essentially subaltern, proxy role since the summer of 2016, when it became clear there was no longer any possibility of a strategic rebel victory over Assad.

Rebel factions are mainly now fighting for survival. Those based in Turkey or close to the border have no option but to serve as proxies for Ankara’s ambitions. (Even the al Qaeda-associated Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group, which now dominates Idlib province, has a curious relationship of “soft coordination” with Turkey made necessary by the group’s desire not to face Russian airpower.) The rebels farther south play a similar role for their Jordanian, American, or Israeli patrons.

If we want to blunt Iran’s (and Russia’s) reach and influence in Syria, then we have good reason to partner with the Kurds in Syria.