Washington Kurdish Institute
January 25, 2018
Turkey’s recently initiated military campaign against the region of Afrin in northwest Syria represents an act of naked aggression, and, six days in, has already had a significant human cost. Hundreds of civilians have been killed or wounded, and both sides continue to sustain casualties. Afrin’s defenders are giving their lives to defend their homes, and, on the other side, Turkish conscripts doing mandatory military service are losing their lives alongside more motivated nationalist and religious extremist Turkish fighters and their jihadist proxy forces in Syria (including Syrians and foreign fighters paid and supported by the Turkish state).
US national interests, specifically US security concerns, are being directly targeted by Turkey’s Afrin campaign – which is no surprise for any casual observer of Turkey who has witnessed a gradual increase in anti-American vitriol emanating from the Turkish government and its mouthpieces in the local media over the years. More broadly speaking, it is to be expected that an Islamist government, despite NATO membership and receipt of generous US foreign aid, fans the flames of anti-Americanism and now chooses to act militarily in opposition to American security interests.
The People’s Protection Units (YPG) are a major force included in the multi-ethnic and multi-religious Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). After the YPG proved itself as the most effective and dependable Syrian force battling the ISIS terror organization, US cooperation with YPG began and subsequently the establishment of the SDF was announced. The SDF worked hand in hand with the US-led coalition against ISIS and, on a personal level, directly with US military advisors to liberate Raqqa, the former de facto capital and terror planning center of ISIS. American taxpayer money and elite US military resources have been devoted to the SDF and, in contrast to other efforts in Syria, this investment of time, money and valuable human resources has paid off well – the degradation of ISIS was a major US foreign security objective and, whether it is publicly stressed or not, the US now has another (perhaps temporary) outpost in the Middle East which can act as a counterweight to Russian and Iranian presence and influence in the region.
Yesterday the White House issued a readout of US President Donald Trump’s call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan which “relayed concerns” and “urged Turkey to exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces.” The statement continued by expressing “concern about destructive and false rhetoric coming from Turkey, and about United States citizens and local employees detained under the prolonged State of Emergency in Turkey” – uncharacteristically harsh language for an official readout of a conversation with a supposed strategic ally.
While a rational player may perhaps take heed of such a warning, Turkey, perhaps emboldened by years of avoiding the consequences of human rights abuses and the coddling of terrorists (e.g., ISIS, Hamas, and other radical Islamists), reportedly broadened the scope of its military aggression in northern Syria and initiated attacks on Manbij, as previously threatened. This is significant because, unlike Afrin, US forces have reportedly been deployed in Manbij and are now put in direct danger due from Turkish attacks.
The justification for tolerating Turkey’s destabilizing actions in Syria decreases by the day, and perhaps the US is finally running out of patience and Turkey continues to act less and less like a strategic ally and more like a hostile force. The US administration and its allies in Europe must take action before its military is put in even greater danger by Turkish actions, before even more US allies in the SDF along with innocent civilians are killed by Turkey, and before ISIS and other jihadist groups are given breathing space and freedom to operate in Syria, exposing Europe and the rest of the world to an even more serious terrorist threat.