13th October 2019
Northeast Syria burns after Turkish missile attacks
The withdrawal of the limited US contingent of troops based in Northern Syria this week undoubtedly opened the door for the increased Turkish military presence and its assault on the Kurdish population. The Turkish incursion is undoubtedly an invasion but it is effectively a stepping up of the ongoing invasion of Syria which has been happening for the past eight years, routinely characterised in the Western media as the Syrian Civil War.
Having effectively stepped aside to allow Turkish troops free rein to attack the Kurds who were, up until this point, allied to the United States in the fight against ISIS, US President Trump then tweeted,
“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!). They must, with Europe and others, watch over…”
Whatever Trump meant precisely, the response of the Turkish government, from Vice President Fuat Oktay, left little room for equivocation. Oktay said Turkey was intent on combating Syrian Kurdish fighters across its border in Syria and on creating a zone that would allow Turkey to resettle Syrian refugees there.
“Where Turkey’s security is concerned, we determine our own path but we set our own limits,” Oktay said.
As a member of the NATO military alliance it would be usual to expect some consultation with partners before embarking on unilateral military action against a neighbouring state. Some weak kneed disapproval of Turkish action has been voiced in London, Berlin and Paris but no suggestion that this should be universally condemned and certainly no suggestion that the rights of the Kurdish people to self determination should be on anyone’s agenda.
The Syrian government has reacted through Deputy Foreign Minister, Faisal Mekdad, who called on the country’s Kurds to rejoin the government side after being abandoned by their US allies.
As an oppressed minority within Turkey the Kurdish people, under the leadership of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), have been engaged in armed conflict inside Turkey since 1984, in their struggle to improve the rights of Kurds in the country. While the original desire of the PKK for an independent Kurdish state, which would incorporate parts of existing Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq, has been dropped, the demands for equal rights and fair treatment remains.
Turkey considers Kurdish fighters in Syria terrorists and has already launched two major incursions into northern Syria in recent years. The first was in 2016, when Turkey and Syrian opposition fighters it backs, attacked areas held by ISIS west of the Euphrates River. Last year Turkey launched an attack on the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin, leading to the displacement of some 300,000 people.
There is little doubt that energy spent by Kurdish forces consolidating areas regained from ISIS control will now have to be diverted to defend against the Turkish threat. The opportunity for ISIS to exploit this division and reassert itself in areas of northeastern Syria is obvious.
Western media reports that Turkey gained clearance for its attack from Russia, as part of the agreement between Russia, Turkey and Iran in relation to the Syrian conflict, appear to be at odds with the condemnation of the Turkish incursion by Iran. It is equally likely that, whatever its notional alliance with Russia, or for that matter NATO, Turkey saw the opportunity to weaken or wipe out the PKK opposition and has seized it.
A more sinister interpretation is offered by the New York Post (21/9/19) which notes that,
“Since 2012, the Turkish intelligence service MIT, under (Turkish President) Erdogan’s direction, has been providing resources and material assistance to ISIS, while Turkish customs officials turn a blind eye to ISIS recruits flowing across Turkey’s borders into Syria and Iraq.”
ISIS re-established in Syria would add to the de-stabilisation of the Assad government, potentially undermining it, which has been the intention of the West since fighting began. A de facto alliance with ISIS to undermine the PKK would suit Turkey’s domestic objectives as well as retaining a NATO foothold in Syria.
It may just be that, for Turkey, being an attack dog for NATO and at the same time an ally of ISIS, are simply two sides of the same coin.