U.S. President Donald Trump still has the option of putting the brakes on the Turkish offensive in northeast Syria, however, the mixed signals coming from the White House are creating confusion in understanding American policy in the region, wrote Henri Barkey, the Cohen professor of international relations at Lehigh University in the UAE-based the National newspaper.
Turkish military offensive in northern Syria, aiming to remove the Syrian Kurdish forces from territories along the Turkish border, has come under severe international pressure, with repeated calls to Ankara from its Western allies and Arab countries to halt the offensive.
The operation came hours after a phone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in which the Trump effectively gave Turkey the green light for a long-planned operation against Kurdish militia.
At stake in the incursion, Barkey wrote, is not just the future of the war against the Islamic State (ISIS), but also the future of Syria and the Kurds, as well as the U.S.’ role as a reliable actor in the region.
Turkey is looking to create a safe zone in northern Syria that is cleared from the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a group that has played a key role in the U.S.-led war on ISIS in the region.
Turkey sees the YPG as an existential threat due to its links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group that has been at war in Turkey for over 30 years.
“There was no indication that the YPG ever mounted any operation directly against Turkey in Syria, particularly as they had their hands full with the fight against ISIS, which led to the death of about 11,000 of their own fighters,’’ the article said. “Still, the drumbeat of incessant Turkish rhetoric at home and abroad brought the issue to a boiling point.’’
Although it appears as though Ankara has gotten its way, Turkey’s ultimate goals remain somewhat unclear, Barkey wrote, underlining Ankara’s plans to move up to three million Syrian refugees from Turkey to a so-called safe zone, can only be accomplished by removing the current population.
It is hard to see how Turkey, which has now become integral in Syria, will withdraw its troops from the region, the article said.
Meanwhile, the issue of the Islamic State (ISIS) is another major problem in Syria.
With the YPG quitting the fight against ISIS as a result of the Turkish operation, Barkey wrote, their possible resurgence would destabilise not just Syria, but Iraq, too.
“Trump’s erratic behaviour, his constant refrain on retrenchment and willingness to break with allies without the slightest afterthought has rankled US allies in the Middle East and beyond,’’ Barkey wrote.