Our formal ally is a total dick and it's about to go medieval on the bunch we really like, our informal ally. The dick is Turkey. The guys we like are the Kurds of Syria and Iraq.
Turkey's president, Recep Erdogan, is mightily pissed that the Syrian Kurds are positively sweeping through the north of that war-besotted land, bringing them closer by the day to control of Syrian territory at Turkey's borders.
Erdogan has a problem, several of them, most anchored in Turkish suppression of its own Kurdish minority that is now threatening to embroil Turkey in a full-blown civil war. Turkey claims its Kurds are aided and abetted by the Kurds of Syria and Iraq both of which Turkish jets have been bombing.
Turkey's NATO allies have been asking Erdogan to back off but he seems to be intent on doubling down and launching a ground war into northern Syria.
The main Syrian Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), was set up as a franchise of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting the Turkish state on and off since 1984, first for independence and now for Kurdish self-rule inside Turkey. Salih Muslim, the co-chair of the Democratic Union Party, which serves as the political wing of the YPG, swiftly denied any connection to the Ankara blast. The YPG has never attacked Turkey before and would surely desist from any actions that put its alliance with the United States at risk.
It remains unclear what sort of retaliatory action Turkey will take. What is certain is that Washington’s delicate balancing act between its Turkish and Kurdish allies is looking more precarious than ever.
Since Feb. 13, Turkish tanks have been shelling SDF positions near the Syrian town of Azaz, which is a vital resupply line for rebel forces in Aleppo who are allied with Ankara and doubles as a rear base against the Kurds. Turkey has vowed to prevent it from falling into their hands. Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan made Turkey’s intentions clear, saying that it wants to create a “secure” strip of territory roughly 6 miles deep on the Syrian side of the border, including Azaz. Thousands of Turkish troops have been massing in the area for weeks, prompting Russia to warnthat Turkey was planning an invasion of Syria.
Meanwhile, the SDF is skirting Azaz, punching a corridor further south — well out of Turkey’s range — and recruiting rebel groups along the way. Turkey’s demands that Washington stop aiding Kurdish “terrorists” has so far fallen on deaf ears. Rather, Washington has been calling on Turkey to stop attacking the Syrian Kurds.
Ankara may seem powerless in Syria, but it still has cards to play. It can, and already has begun to, reinforce its rebel proxies against the Kurds. More ominously, it could yet again ease restrictions on the flow of foreign jihadis into Syria.
The payoff for both sides has been huge. The SDF has driven the Islamic State out of a broad stretch of territory along the Turkish border, while helping to pressure the jihadis in their self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa. The Kurds boast they now control an area “three times the size of Lebanon.”
But Syria’s Kurds want more. They are angling for diplomatic recognition. Russia has stepped up to the plate, hinting that it will back the Kurds’ plans for autonomy. It also insists that the Kurds must take part in the now-stalled Geneva talks. The United States also backed the Kurds’ participation in peace talks, but backed off when Ankara threatened to stay away from the talks if the Kurds were allowed to join.
All of this is adding to Turkish fury, and Turkey’s Kurds say they are paying the price. The pain that Turkey would like to inflict on their Syrian brethren, their argument runs, is being meted out on them instead.
The challenge now seems to be for Washington to bash Turkish and Kurdish heads together until they reach some accommodation but it's clear that American clout in that region is faltering.
All the more reason for Canada to sit this one out. Even more reason for NATO to tell Erdogan that it won't get involved if a Turkish invasion of Syria leads to a military conflict with Russia.