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Rebel defeat in northern Syria cripples Turkey’s plans

It is no longer a secret that when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had his series of meetings with top American officials in Washington last month, he had a specific plan to kick DAESH out from northern Syria. Erdoğan tried to convince the American leadership to give another shot to Syrian Arab groups near Azaz and asked for intensified American logistics support and air cover for their offensives along the Turkish border. That was not a surprise because General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter were already publicly signaling a revival of the train-and-equip program for Turkey-backed Syrian groups. These groups would receive military training, including how to call in airstrikes on the enemy.

Ankara has used every way to make sure the U.S. would stick with the red lines imposed on the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Turkey preventing the PKK-linked YPG’s entrance to Manbij and Jarablous requires an alternative and the U.S. seemed cautiously open to Turkish proposals. As U.S. Secretary of State Jon Kerry said earlier this month, the U.S. still considers sealing the 145kilometers of the Turkish-Syrian border controlled by DAESH as a priority.

This is why the anti-DAESH coalition significantly increased its airstrikes and Turkish artillery fire around Azaz over the past two weeks, and the Syrian opposition seized the crucial town of al-Rai along the border. But the victory was short-lived since DAESH seized the area back and disgraced the Syrian rebels by burning refugee camps and even creating a new wave of refugees to Turkey. Meanwhile, the YPG in Afrin simultaneously continued to attack opposition-held territory and made sure the YPG has no intentions of brokering an alliance in the area with rebels.

Even worse, DAESH has begun to target Turkey’s border town of Kilis with Katyusha rockets, which has caused great harm on the civilian population. DAESH has targeted the town for the last two weeks and, as a result, five Syrian refugees, three of them children, and two Turkish citizens died while dozens of citizens were wounded.

Let’s face it, Ankara is backed into a tight corner with these developments. It cannot tolerate the Democratic Union Party’s (PYD) additional seizure of territory and it cannot transform weak rebels into a victorious force in a night either. And DAESH is still infiltrating into Turkey from across the border and targeting Turkish citizens and Syrian refugees. No problems are solved and U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration, especially the pro-PYD officials, thinks their point is getting validated.

This is why we hear more American calls for a PKK cease-fire and a complete withdrawal of PKK forces from Turkey to Syria and Iraq, because the U.S. believes the chances for a Turkish plan to succeed are not very high and pushing the PKK into its caves while it is aiding the fight against DAESH seems a calculated move.

The problem with this plan, however, is Ankara is still not giving up on its own plan. There is no other option for Ankara, which does not believe the PKK would abandon violence unless it is militarily defeated. The point is that Ankara tried to figure a way out regarding the PKK since 2009, and it has not worked. Now, a PKK affiliate ruling a large swathe of territory in Syria makes it even a lesser possibility that the PKK would return to the negotiating table.

If Washington is seriously planning to convince Ankara on this front, officials should make sure the PKK ends its violence at once and withdraws from Turkey without any preconditions. Maybe there might be some hope for this American adventure. Who knows?

Daily Sabah

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