U.S.-backed Kurdish Force in Syria Prompts Threat of Attack from Turkey
The United States’ announcement to support a U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led force in northern Syria was met with strong disapproval from the Syrian and Turkish governments. Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad promised to crush the new force, while Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan threatened to “strangle it before it’s even born.”
Russia also voiced fears that the U.S.’s plan would place part of Syria under U.S. control. Russia and Iran have been strong allies to Syria, helping the Assad government restore control over most of Syria’s main cities. President Assad hopes to eventually regain control of the entire country, and even Syrian opposition groups have objected to any division of the country.
The U.S. may also be losing one of its strongest allies in the Middle East, Turkey, with this plan. Turkey is finalizing plans to attack the Kurds in northern Syria with troops and tanks near the border. Turkey fears that the Syrian Kurds are an extension of the Turkish Kurds, who led a four decade revolt against the Turkish government.
Mostafa Bali, spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F), said, in a potential attempt to reassure Turkey, that “these forces are not a threat against anybody.” He further explained that the enclave wouldn’t be based on Kurdish ethnicity and would be part of a more decentralized, rather than splintered, Syria.
In a similar attempt to avoid escalation, Andrew J. Tabler, a Syria specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, claimed that “this is about making sure that ISIS is truly defeated and the conditions for its regeneration are eliminated. This isn’t to create a Kurdistan or an enclave in the long term.”
While American commanders consider the Kurdish fighters the most capable of the S.D.F. and any future border-security force, Turkey views them as terrorists. No matter how the U.S. or the Kurds spin the 30,000 troop increase, Turkey will continue to feel threatened, which increases the potential for a fresh round of fighting.
A statement from Turkey’s foreign ministry indicated that Turkey had not been consulted in the decision to form the Syrian Border Security Force, even though they are a part of the Global Coalition against Daesh, which released the statement about the border force. Turkey also called it “wrong and dangerous” to fight the Islamic State and conduct “stabilization activities in areas liberated from Daesh in cooperation with another terrorist organization.” The statement ended with a reminder that “Turkey is determined and capable to eliminate any threats targeting its territory.”
The pushback and threats of violence from Turkey, Syria, Russia, and Iran signal a danger to the stability of the region that could undermine the U.S.’s efforts to create a stronger security force. If the U.S., as it has indicated, does not support a long term autonomous Kurdish enclave, then it may be more strategic to maintain Turkey as an ally and promote security against the Islamic State through other means.