By Sirwan Kajjo, GATESTONE INSTITUTE
The evolving U.S.-Kurdish partnership has alarmed Turkey. Ankara fears that establishing a Kurdish-led entity on its southern borders would empower its restive Kurdish population, particularly PKK fighters.
Washington needs to ensure that its Kurdish partners on the ground are protected and not distracted from the main mission, which is defeating terror in Syria.
Turkey’s offensive against Syrian Kurds will serve only to aggravate the multi-layered conflict in Syria, making it even harder for international interlocutors to bring an end to the seven-year civil war and secure a much-needed political settlement for the country.
A Turkish assault against Kurdish forces in Syria, such as the ongoing one, was expected by everyone, including the U.S.
Now, three weeks into its controversial offensive against a Kurdish enclave in northern Syria, Turkey’s military is facing fierce resistance from the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in the city of Afrin.
Observing the daily operations since they began on January 20, it is noticeable that the Turkish military and its allied Syrian rebels, backed by Turkish air support, have made little progress in taking control of Kurdish-held territory — the main objective behind Ankara’s decision to launch the offensive in Syria.
So far, Turkey’s advances have not gone beyond seizing a number of villages along its border with Syria, according to local sources.
Since mid-2012, the Afrin region in northwestern Syria has been controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). That occurred after the withdrawal of Syrian regime troops, which then began to focus on fighting rebel forces elsewhere in the country.
Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an insurgent group that has been fighting Turkish forces for autonomy in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeast. Both Turkey and the U.S. regard the PKK as a terrorist organization.
The U.S., however, makes a clear distinction between the YPG and PKK. Since late 2014, the U.S. has backed the YPG in its fight against the terror group ISIS. Despite Turkey’s objections, U.S. support for Syrian Kurdish forces expanded over the years, and the YPG played a pivotal role in ousting ISIS from the Syrian city of Raqqa, previously ISIS’s de facto capital.
U.S. officials have repeatedly described the YPG as the most effective fighting forcein the war on terror in Syria.
The evolving U.S.-Kurdish partnership has alarmed Turkey. Ankara fears that establishing a Kurdish-led entity on its southern borders would empower its restive Kurdish population, particularly PKK fighters. Hence, Turkey’s offensive against Afrin was hurriedly — and perhaps prematurely — launched when Washington last month announced its plans to build a 30,000-strong border security force made up largely of YPG fighters.
The battle of Afrin will certainly not be easy for the Turkish army and its Syrian allies, and has already proven costly for the Turkish ground forces fighting in Syria. So far, more than 20 Turkish soldiers have been killed by …read more