15/10/2019 by socialistfight
By Naciye Suman, Tuesday 15-October 2019
The Syrian civil war, which has been raging for over 8 years since 2011, has now entered into its most dangerous phase yet with the incursion of the Turkish army deeper into Syrian territory. Turkey has been making noises since December of its disapproval of having a Kurdish autonomous region along its border, and the removal of US forces was the green light for the Turkish offensive, which came shortly after a telephone call between Trump and Erdoğan.
Turkey is home to nearly 4 million Syrian refugees; a consequence of having been an active participant in supporting the bloody civil war with proxies and insisting on the removal of Assad as Syrian leader. Another estimated 7 million civilians have been displaced internally with various militia groups having been trained by Turkey and the US and taking advantage of the political vacuum inside Syria. Erdogan’s other objective is to create a 30km buffer zone inside Syrian territory to return 2 million Syrian refugees, which is the pretext of justifying the onslaught against the Syrian Democratic Forces.
How an additional 2 million refugees could be placed into an area 300 miles long by 20 miles wide safely is open to debate. Nearly a century of bloody imperialist interference in a region which has seen the carving up of territories, constant conflict with the opening up of deliberate inter-ethnic sectarian tensions, regime changes and the propping up of dictators with the West’s obsession with oil has resulted in the opening of Pandora’s box. ‘Operation Peace Spring’ initially had all the hallmarks of being given a green light by both Russia and the US, in a cat and mouse game of attempting to keep Turkey on their side on the back of their purchase and arrival of the Russian S-400 missile system in July.
However, the sands are shifting beneath the feet of all involved and the conflict is taking on a dangerous dynamic of its own, which could result in open hostilities between regional powers escalating outwards. Any miscalculation provides fertile ground for this situation to morph outside of anyone’s control potentially leading to a catastrophic outcome. Only on Saturday (12th October 2019) a civilian convoy containing the Kurdish political leader, Hevrin Khalaf, was stopped. She was taken from her vehicle along with her driver and along with 7 others were shot by Turkish backed factions on the roadside. Despite this being captured on video, Turkish state media claimed that she was targeted in an air strike. Either this shows a willingness to carry out war crimes with a complete disregard for international condemnation or shows militias out of control on the ground whereby anything can happen.
Part of Trump’s election campaign during 2016 was a promise to his electoral base that the US would scale back on its wars abroad. The Kurdish forces in Syria have been reliant on US support, which has angered many in Turkey, both within the military and on the street. However, this abandonment at short notice by Trump has not only shown him to be totally unpredictable but incapable of protecting American interests. This has caused deep rifts with the American ruling class with both Republicans and Democrats being united in condemnation of the removing of US forces out of Syria and it has been nothing but a catastrophic defeat of US foreign policy, which is now being enacted on the hoof.
Trump’s initial response was to ridicule the US Kurdish allies by ludicrously suggesting that no help came during WWII, and then proceeding to raise Turkish anger by threatening Turkey with economic sanctions. Trump has now issued an executive order authorising, “the imposition of sanctions against current and former officials of the Government of Turkey and any persons contributing to Turkey’s destabilizing actions in northeast Syria.” These sanctions are directed at three ministers and two government agencies in Turkey, according to the Treasury Department. Additional news coming out of Washington is the possible backtracking of removing any remaining US boots on the ground is also being considered.
If this is true it may only result in the hardening of Turkey’s determination to push on, jeopardise US access to the İncirlik air base, which is complicated further by having tactical nuclear weapons based there, and put the US military in the middle of a war. The last time the Americans were suspended from access to Turkish bases was during the Cyprus crisis in 1974. The Turkish incursion started on 9th October 2019, which was the 21st anniversary of the expulsion of the PKK leader, Abdullah Öcalan, from Syria.
This could only have realistically started with US approval. Turkish forces pounded 181 targets before the ground offensive resulting in numerous border villages being captured. At the time of writing nearly 160,000 people have already been displaced, 69 civilians and several hundred fighters have been killed in Syria, along with 18 civilians killed in Turkey. Yesterday Turkish forces have reportedly advanced up Manbij and are potentially facing the Syrian and Russian forces that have been deployed between SDF and Turkish controlled areas held since ‘Operation Euphrates Shield’. With their US allies not for the first time turning their back on them, the Kurds have been left with no other option but to appeal to both Russia and Assad for protection. Trump has basically driven them straight into the arms of Russia.
The governing coalition in the Kurdish self-administered region in northern Syria have entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Russians and declared in a statement on Sunday; “The memorandum stipulates that everyone should be involved in the protection of the border, hence allowing the presence of members of the government army on the border and the start of joint protection tasks with the SDF”, referring to an agreement with the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to send government troops to the northern border area with Turkey.
The statement went on to say that “this understanding is preliminary, and the priorities are to prevent the Turkish attack and discussions are continuing regarding a future mutual understanding.” “We are talking about a joint border protection mechanism. In the event of averting the Turkish threat, the rest of the matter can be discussed with a Russian guarantee,” it added. Meanwhile the Turkish President, Erdogan, has claimed today that Moscow have agreed for Turkish troops to enter into Kobanî, despite reports that Syrian troops are approaching the area.
To add to the confusion in the fog of war, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the country hopes Turkey “will not continue on this path” with the Turkish military offensive in Syria. “Today we are facing something in the north of Syria which is not pleasant for the region and certainly not for the Kurds in Syria, the government in Syria, nor for us,” he said before continuing: “The solution of the security concerns of Turkey in Syria is only the presence of the Syrian National Army in that region of Syria. The methods that Turkey has chosen to enter Syrian territory even though Turkey promised to respect” the Syrian territory, he said. “We do hope that the Turkish government will not continue on this path.”
A power play is being played out in the Middle East between the outside powers of the US and Russia with regional allies; Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia each jostling for regional dominance with others joining the fray. Both Israel and Egypt have declared their support for Kurdish autonomy with many in Turkey seeing the position of these two states having more to do with Turkish support for the Palestinians, the ongoing tensions over the gas fields in Cyprus and opportunism to drive a wedge between Iran and Turkey over the Iranian nuclear issue. Whatever the reasoning behind the different agendas, one thing is certain, continued destabilisation of the region and the suffering of the Syrians will continue. The Turkish incursion must stop, the sovereign integrity of Syria has to be respected and the outside powers need to stop interfering in the wider region as a whole.