We are roughly thirty days into Operation Peace Spring. The Turkish Intervention into Northeastern Syria which was launched days after President Trump made the controversial decision to shift the small US Troop presence in the Country.
This presents a very apropos opportunity to do an assessment of what Turkey’s Counterterrorism Strategy is specifically when it comes to the morass that Syria has devolved into. There are a couple of obvious questions such as what threats to Turkey currently exist? Who are the current boogeymen or scapegoats according to President Erdogan? These are the most easy questions that will be seen and often asked in Think tanks.
It is clear that the actions of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) is a main motivator for whatever action is deemed necessary by Ankara. We know of the campaign during the mid-1990s against the Turkish Military. However it is through the prism of the PKK through which the Kurds in Syria are viewed. Some of this could result from Paranoia resulting from how the conflict in Syria has ebbed and flowed but there is some historical context at work here.
We have to return to the time of the First World War. After the surrender of the Ottoman Empire its territory to the immediate south of what is modern day Turkey was divided into spheres of influence between the British Empire and France. One of the key provisions aka the Sykes-Picot agreement was to allow for the Kurds to have some form of self-determination. This would be the first time that the Kurds would be betrayed by the Western Powers.
President Erdogan has used the fear within Turkey of the Kurds having any form of State to his Political advantage. After all the Western Powers have highly damaged Daesh to the point that it’s not a major threat for the time being. This means the present is the perfect opportunity to reveal its ultimate goal for Northern Syria. A Safe Zone along the border devoid of Kurds.
However there is a flaw to this strategy. Their thought process has that the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) which has a Kurdish Element has been providing the PKK with high quality mostly western made weapons. However in their move against the SDF the Turkish Military has also been engaging Arabs (whom they wish to transport to their declared safe zone), Christians, Yezhdis and Turkmen. So in the current mindset of the Turkish Military are casualties to other components to the SDF acceptable as collateral damage?
This policy has further strained the already fragile relationship between Turkey and the Trump Administration. There have already been ample reasons for the relationship to sour, The F-35 debate, the arrest of Pastor Brunson are just two examples that show how this relationship is actually fraying.
There are also a couple of points we should actually ponder. There has been ample criticism of the Trump Administration moving troops to protect the Oil Fields that remain under the control of the SDF. Why are we not considering the point that the troops are there to keep this Oil out of the hands of the Turks and denying them both the Oil and a potential source of revenue?
There have been allegations that the Turkish Military has used White Phosphorus in its campaign in Northern Syria. How will this be criticized?
The US House of Representatives has passed a Resolution declaring what happened to the Armemians by the Ottoman Forces as indeed a Genocide. Although symbolic in nature this is a major PR defeat to the Turks. Especially when President Erdogan will soon visit Washington.
Who said Politics isn’t a contact sport?