August 4, 2019

Erdoğan threatens to invade Syria - this time he just might

"Ankara will not continue to tolerate the US-backed YPG terror group’s harassment in the region" – Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

It appears that Turkey's (or more correctly, Erdoğan's) long-threatened invasion of northern Syria may actually happen - there are reports this afternoon of Turkish shelling along the border. This self-styled new Ottoman sultan - true to form - couches attacking the Syrian Kurds as a counterterrorist operation.

The Syrian Kurds the Turkish president is threatening to attack are the People's Protection Units (known more commonly by the Kurdish initials YPG), the major fighting force on the ground against fighters of the Islamic State in Iraqi and Syria (ISIS) in Syria. While the Turks did in fact engage some ISIS forces, most of their efforts were misguided, aimed at the YPG and not the actual enemy.

The Turkish government of President Erdoğan regards the Syrian YPG as nothing more than a branch of the Turkish Kurdistan Workers Party, known as the PKK. The PKK has been designated by the United States and NATO as a terrorist organization, many believe in a gesture to NATO "ally" Turkey.

The United States and its other allies do believe the YPG to be part of the YPG. No matter how many of Erdoğan’s sycophants claim otherwise - and as soon as I write this, they will come out of the proverbial woodwork - the YPG is not the PKK.

As far as I know, the YPG has never attacked targets inside Turkey. The PKK certainly has, and has used northern Syria as a base of operations, but this predates the civil war that began in 2011. Support for the PKK has long been an periodic foreign policy tool of the Syrian regime of both the late President Hafiz al-Asad and the current president, his son Bashar.

Following the territorial defeat of ISIS in Syria, mostly at the hands of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the majority of which is made up of YPG fighters, Erdoğan made the decision to take advantage of the situation and demand that there be a security zone along the Turkish border extending into Syria by as much as 30 kilometers (18 miles).

Erdoğan even launched several barely successful military incursions into Syria as the first step. Since it didn't go so well for the Turks, they want the U.S. to agree to the establishment of the zone and force the YPG to comply.

Negotiations have gone nowhere, and the Turks continue making threats to invade. While his army has the capability with armor, artillery and air support to push the YPG militias – basically a light infantry force – back away from the border, the YPG is likely to fight.

We don't need this confrontation - there are still issues with the remnants of ISIS in northern Syria that need to be addressed, not the least of which is the thousands of ISIS prisoners. The ISIS prisoners not only include the fighters, but their wives and children. Many of these are from foreign countries, including the United States and Europe.

So now we have a NATO ally, albeit a problematic one (need I say F-35 and S-400?) threatening to attack another U.S. ally. As has been since almost the beginning of the civil war, and with very few exceptions, the Turks have been decidedly unhelpful – and ineffective - in the fight against ISIS.

One has to keep in mind that the overwhelming majority of ISIS fighters that come from outside Iraq and Syria arrived in Syria via Turkey. Having spent a lot of time on both sides of that border, I can say that crossing into Syria from Turkey is not done alone or without help.

This potential invasion is not only unhelpful, but totally unnecessary. The YPG is not a threat to Turkey. I suspect Erdoğan has read the polls in Turkey – his AKP party is in disarray and was rebuked in the latest local elections.

What’s the solution? Start a military operation against what Erdoğan claims to be a terrorist threat to Turkey. It might sell in Anatolia, maybe even in Trakya, but certainly not here.

Unhelpful and unnecessary.