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The US Attempt to Form An Army In Syria and the Reactıon of Turkey in Syrıan Chess Game

Syrian conflict, which has started with Arab Spring in 2011 and dragged the whole Middle East into the proxy war among super powers, gave more instability signals with the intervention of the USA. While the efforts of Russia, Turkey and Iran have struggled to constitute de-conflict zone diplomatically through Astana and Sochi summits, the US efforts to form an army of 30 thousand militants with the majority of YPG/PKK along the Turkish border in Syria raised new concerns about the future Turkish-American relations. 

Can Ankara-Moscow-Tehran trio form a partnership model to block new Middle East policy of the USA which is grounded on the cooperation with terrorists? Does the increasing tension between the USA and Turkey stemming from Syria controversy get bigger? Do Iran and Russia approve Turkish military operation in Afrin? Does the tension create chaos and new migration waves heading to Turkey? As in Barzani case, do Syrian Kurds allured by the American democracy promise side with Turkey supporting peace and territorial integrity of Syria or with PKK/YPG which have been the pawns of dirty war campaign against Turkey?

The US efforts to form a YPG/PKK 30 thousand-army, equipped with heavy weapons to fight with ISIS, which it was already neutralized in Raqqa in Northern Syria, has intensified the controversy between Turkey and USA. Turkey, a NATO member, has declared this formation as a threat to its national security and there is a possibility to carry out a military operation against it. The Netanyahu Government and Jewish lobby in the USA, which do not want the Iran’s influence and Hizbullah actions in Lebanon to be a model in Syria, have already pressed the button to punish Tehran. In this respect, the Trump administration is expected not to withdraw American troops from Syria in order to continue its military and political cooperation with YPG, which is defined as an ally, to pacify the Iran influence in Iraq. Within the framework of an agreement between Vladimir Putin and DonaldTrump in Vietnam to trigger a political solution phase in Syria, the USA also aims to balance the increasing military power of Russia in the Mediterranean. Thus, the USA, which supports PYD to form a federal structure in Syria, look forward to crack a NATO member Turkey’s purchasing Russian-made S-400 missile system and Sochi process which has been supported by Iran and had a key role for the peace talks in Syria.  

Turkey, arguing that the legal basis of American presence is to fight against ISIS, objected clearly and sharply the formation of an illegal army of terrorists. Turkey declared that this attempt is in sharp contrast with the American argument focusing on the fight against ISIS. With a recent decision, Ankara declared that it strongly objects to the transformation of YPG/PKK into an army equipped with American weaponry in the West and East of Euphrates, formation of a terror corridor threatening its borders and territorial integrity. Turkey has officially pointed out that it will take necessary military measures to hinder this plan. During the meeting with his American counterpart Rex Tillerson, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, clearly indicated that Turkey will never allow organized armed terrorists, and considers the American attempt to form a border army as a clear serious threat to its sovereignty and survival.   Turkey’s harsh response was also supported by Russia and Iran. The Iranian President Rouhani claimed that the formation of an armed force is a violation of international law and Syrian sovereignty. Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Lavrov added that “The US attempt to form an army may harm the territorial integrity. The US’s unilateral, ultimatum-like army formation project may create problems in Turkish-Kurdish relations and does not help to calm down the situation in Afrin. We expect a detailed explanation from the USA.”  Turkey is a member of the Alliance for Coalition to Fight with ISIS.  The support, even the equipment of these terrorist organizations by the Alliance members has caused great disappointment and anger in the Turkish public opinion. It also supports the claim that Israel-USA pressure hinders the peace in Syria. The Turkish people increased the pressure on political and military elites to reconsider the legal and political legitimacy of the American presence in İncirlik and other military bases. Pentagon declared that a new army or a border security mainly formed by YPG/PKK and “the armament of Kurds by the USA in Syria does not aim at forming a new army or a border security in a conventional sense.” Pentagon also said that “The security concern of Turkey is rightful. We will be completely transparent with Turkey in our attempt to beat  ISIS and we will side with our NATO ally in its fight against terrorism.” Despite this explanation, the another statement, that “we suggest Turkey not to take such an action” by the spokesperson of the US Department of State Heather Nauert about the would-be Turkish military operation to Afrin has opened a different window.

When it comes to Ankara, it considered the decision as an alarming step towards recognizing PYD-YPG (Syrian branch of PKK) and making it persistent in the region instead of ending the support they receive. After the talk with his colleague Tillerson Çavuşoğlu indicated that Ankara is not satisfied with Tillerson’s explanation  like “We understand Turkey’s sensitivity and anxiety.” Therefore, Çavuşoğlu commented that Turkey is not satisfied despite all the explanations by the USA. Çavuşoğlu indicated the USA explanation that border forces will not be placed in Syria cannot be a reason for postponing the operation in Afrin. By expressing the necessity for coordination with Russia in possible intervention to Afrin, Çavuşoğlu said they spoke with Russia and Iran about using air space. In this context, Commander of Turkish Armed Forces Hulusi Akar,who had a meeting with the Commander of US Armed Forces Joseph Dunford in Brussels NATO Military Committee, discussed the Syrian issue together with the Undersecretary of  Turkish National Intelligence Hakan Fidan with the Russian Chief of General Staff Valeri Gerasimov and Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu in Moscow. They discussed not only using the Syrian air space in possible Afrin operation but also accelerating the establishment of observation points in de-conflict zones in Idlib. In the short-term, it may appear that Russia and Iran who do not feel the threat as much as Turkey will  abstain from such a cooperation with Turkey. At such a point, strengthening of  the opposite bloc that the USA is planning to set up with Israel and Gulf countries may be unavoidable.

Finally, as expected, the Turkish troops and  Free Syrian Army (FSA) started the Olive Branch operation. Turkish Air Forces with 72 aircraft and two mechanized armoured brigades including nearly 6 thousand commando soldiers crossed the border. On the 6th day of the operation, they are carrying out the operation through 4 different sides in order to clear the region from terrorist groups, mainly PKK, PYD, YPG and ISIS. The terrorist groups are now being wrapped around, i.e. blockaded, in the west, east and north. The logistic support roads and channels to PKK from the north of Idlib and the south of Afrin have already been closed. According to reports, the terrorist groups lost more than 300 militants, the alive are captured and are under query so there is a deep despondency among them. According to the recent information from the region, order in command chain between the terrorist groups has dissappeared. Before the operation the USA stated that Afrin is out of their responsibility region, which caused Russia to make a hard preference over PYD. Close cooperation attempt of Turkish diplomacy with Moscow gave rise to the desired result: Russia, whose role has been gamehosting in Syrian crisis, gave support to Turkish Army and paved the way for a critical change in the balance of regional strategy. Hence, Russia left PYD/PKK on half way or punished their cooperation with the USA. The explanation made by Moscow Office of PYD showed how furious this terrorist group is. Contrary to black propaganda, this operation is not against the Kurdish population but against the imperialistic attempts to move the region into conflict and chaos. Three guarantors of the region, Iran, Russia, Turkey are building a protector barrier in Astana. 

The USA-Turkey alliance will be seriously examined by this operation. Heather Nauert said that “Russia’s statements are not only unhelpful, but that is propaganda. I think they would like to drive a wedge between two NATO allies, between the United States and Turkey.” During  the Paris meeting of Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu and the US counterpart Tillerson, the Secretary of State suggested a security zone of 30 kms. He said they do not desire a confrontation with Turkey.  Çavuşoğlu emphasized that the Afrin operation aims to remove the terrorist groups from the region and reminded that there is also threat coming from Manbij. Upon Tillerson’s repeated expression “We do not desire to confront with Turkey”, Çavuşoğlu replied “ We do not want to confront with the USA, either; however, wherever the threat and danger by YPG is coming, whether the west or east of Euphrates, we have to take the necessary cautions and make the required intervention. This is a vital issue for us.” Ties between the two NATO allies have been tense over several issues, including the U.S. support to the Syrian Kurdish fighters whom Turkey considers to be "terrorists" because of their alleged links to outlawed Kurdish rebels in Turkey. In the phone call, Erdoğan reiterated Turkey's determination to clear its southern border of all terrorists. Erdoğan also underlined that the operation is being carried out under the framework of Turkey's rights based on international law, U.N. Security Council resolutions, its right to self-defense under the U.N. charter and respect for Syria's territorial integrity, sources said.The Turkish president also told Trump that the U.S. must stop aiding terrorists in the region and do this as soon as possible. On the other hand, President Donald Trump warned Turkey against taking steps that could risk military conflict between U.S. and Turkish forces in Syria. The White House says Trump is urging the Turkish leader to limit the operation and avoid civilian casualties.

As a result, it is assumed that in Syria’s chess board, a new and uncertain process has started. In the final analysis, the balances are changing in the region. Providing that conflict is extented and deepened, it will inevitably trigger new chain reactions. In this masquerade the last tango hasn’t started yet... 

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.