A former Turkish diplomat who served Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for 40 years said in a blog post on Oct. 8 that the Syrian conflict is a “headache” for Turkey and has led to a serious loss of face for Turkey in the international community.
Ali Tuygan, Ambassador (Ret’d) and former Undersecretary of the Turkish Foreign Ministry said on his blog that the Syrian conflict is “Turkey’s number one headache” and described it as “the erosion of Turkey’s international image, its loss of appeal.”
Immediately after the United States withdrew its forces from northeast Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched the Operation Peace Spring (OPS) on Oct. 9 against Kurdish-led forces—the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) and the People’s Protection Unit (YPG)—and ISIS terrorists.
Turkey said it needs Operation Peace Spring to create a safe zone for millions of Syrian refugees.
One day after the operation’s launch, which President Donald Trump said is a “bad idea,” the Turkish Ministry of Defense said “the air force, artillery & MLRS (multiple launch rocket systems) hit around 200 targets and reached the designated initial tactical objectives successfully,” according to an OPS situation report released by Edam, the Turkish think tank.
At present, Turkey continues its offensive against Kurdish forces that fought with the United States against ISIS.
The Ministry of National Defense said in a message on Twitter on Friday that “the total number of terrorists that have been neutralized since the start of the operation is 277.”
Trump: Fight Between Kurds and Turkey Is Not New
Trump tweeted on Friday that the fight between Turkey and the Kurds is not anything new and that both have been fighting for centuries.
“We defeated 100% of the ISIS Caliphate and no longer have any troops in the area under attack by Turkey, in Syria. We did our job perfectly! Now Turkey is attacking the Kurds, who have been fighting each other for 200 years.”
Trump said the United States has three options in the present circumstances: “We have one of three choices: Send in thousands of troops and win Militarily, hit Turkey very hard Financially and with Sanctions, or mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds!”
Tuygan said Turkey had good relationships with Damascus eight years ago and he attributed the Syrian “headache” to democratic decline inside Turkey. Turkey’s participation in the regime change project was not a wise decision. He described it as a “huge foreign and security policy mistake.”
“We did not have a PYD/YPG problem. We enjoyed good relations with Russia and regional countries. Our democratic decline had started to change the chemistry of our relations with traditional allies but diverging security interests had not become a problem.
“We did not have tens of thousands of jihadist fighters right across the border in İdlib. And, we did not have four million Syrian refugees in Turkey,” said Tuygan.
An analysis of Turkey’s shifting Syrian policy by Gonul Tol, the founding director of The Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies said what Turkey is doing in Syria today is linked to Turkey’s internal politics.
“Ankara’s priorities in Syria shifted as President Erdogan’s efforts to consolidate his power at home hit a wall,” said Tol.
She said Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) didn’t get a majority in the Parliament in 2015 elections because of the rise of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
“The government’s ceasefire with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) broke down after the elections, Erdogan struck an alliance with the country’s nationalists, and the government embarked on a heavy-handed militaristic response to the Kurdish question,” said Tol.
She explained that a change in Erdogan’s Kurdish policy inside Turkey changed his view towards Syria, and then number one enemy, the Assad regime. The top enemy soon changed to “the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian Kurdish militia that had become the U.S. boots on the ground in the fight against ISIS.”
Obama Administration First Aligned With YPG
President Erdogan hinted at the invasion of northeast Syria during his annual UN General Assembly speech when he said he wanted to promote a plan for the return of 1 to 2 million Syrian refugees to northeastern Syria.
The YPG is the Syrian wing of the PKK, the Kurdish separatist group in Turkey that the U.S. Department of State designates as Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and also as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, according to a release by the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Turkey.
Michael Doran, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute Washington, D.C., said in an opinion piece published in the New York Post that “the PKK has prosecuted a long war against the Turkish Republic, resulting in the death of some 40,000 people.”
Doran blamed the Obama administration for creating a dilemma for Trump in Syria by aligning with the YPG.
“Trump inherited from Obama a dysfunctional strategy for countering ISIS, one that ensured ever-greater turmoil in the region and placed American forces in an impossible position,” said Doran.
The Hudson Institute fellow said the Kurds are good fighters and are held in high esteem by American soldiers who fought along their side against ISIS but aligning with them strained the US–Turkey relationship.
“The American relationship with the YPG was a direct outgrowth of the greatest blunder of the Obama administration: the effort to reach a strategic accommodation with Iran,” said Doran.