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America, Syria, and the Kurds

America, Syria, and the Kurds

On December 5, 2019, Posted by , In Information Reports,Middle East, With Comments Off on America, Syria, and the Kurds
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Written by Caitlin Stock

Last month, President Trump announced plans to relocate American troops from the Northern Syrian/Southern Turkish border. Since the withdrawal, Turkey has launched several ground attacks on the border of northern Syria, which is part of the area known internationally as Kurdistan.  The attacks are part of Turkey’s “Operation Peace Spring”, a military assault designed to “prevent the creation of terror corridor across [the Turkish] southern border,”[1][2] according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  President Erdogan expressed his intention to “crush [the] heads”[3] of Kurdish militants in this attack.  Many native Kurdish people on the border of Turkey and Syria are seeking refuge in nearby areas as the situation intensifies. 

The United States’ partnership with the Kurds began several years ago, but the relationship solidified in 2014 as ISIS began to spread rapidly throughout the Syrian/Iraqi border.[4]  To combat the spread of the terrorist group, American and Kurdish forces formed a coalition. Throughout ISIS’ decline, the US has maintained its relationship with the Kurds by stationing troops near towns along the Syrian-Turkish border.[5]  In contrast, Turkish forces see the PKK, a prominent Kurdish defense force, as a terrorist group that operates against the interests of Turkish national security.  Through Operation Peace Spring, Turkish forces hope to eliminate what they see as “extremist organizations” operating near the Turkish border. [6]

Several groups have conflicting interests in the border region, namely, Turkey, Syria, the Kurds, and ISIS.  President Erdogan of Turkey has a special interest in seeing Operation Peace Spring’s success, especially because of the upcoming Turkish elections.[7]  While Turkey is currently experiencing sluggish economic growth, Erdogan hopes that the operation’s success will garner enough support at the polls for another term as president.  Because of the Turkish offensive, Kurdish defense officials sought a deal with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria for much-needed defense, which means the Kurds are now aligned with Syria, Iran, and Russia.[8]  In addition, ISIS could take advantage of the chaos and rebuild itself during the offensive, but many US and UN officials believe that the group’s resurgence is very unlikely,[9] especially after the successful US operation that killed ISIS’ leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.[10]

The attacks from Turkey will have a significant impact on the direction of US action and defense strategy, as well as future policy. The current administration of the US is looking to pursue a more isolationist stance by working to remove all remaining troops.  While the withdrawal of US troops achieves this objective, the action essentially leaves America’s Kurdish allies without support against Turkish attacks.[11]  The absence of support from the US has led the Kurds to seek help from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is known to take support from Iran and Russia.  The action leaves the Kurds likely to turn to Iran and Russia for aid. 

The American withdrawal will also have an impact on the goals of the Turks.  For the past several years, Turkish officials have feared that the land around the Turkish-Syrian border is being used as a harbor by extreme Kurdish and Islamic groups.[12]  Erdogan announced the beginning of military campaigns to create a “safe-zone” on the border to ensure no terrorist group attacks Turkey or influences Kurdish ethnic groups.[13] With decreased numbers of US troops, the death risk to the Kurds is high and Turkish forces can move into Syria at unprecedented rates.

At present, Kurdish citizens are fleeing ongoing violence in their cities as a result of Turkey’s attacks while Syria hopes to call for a ceasefire with Turkey.  Erdogan continues to support the elimination of Kurdish militant groups in his newest military operation, and it is likely that the attacks will continue.[14] American officials have criticized Trump’s move to pull out of the border region entirely.[15] The full impact of the United States’ withdrawal is uncertain, but it is likely that the Kurds may seek support from forces unsympathetic to the US.


[1] Kirby, Jen. 2019. “Turkey is attacking northeastern Syria, leaving US-backed Kurds at risk”, VOX News, Oct. 9. https://www.vox.com/world/2019/10/9/20906239/turkey-invades-syria-trump-erdogan-kurds

[2] Erdogan, Recep Tayyip. 2019. Twitter.com, Oct. 9. https://twitter.com/RTErdogan/status/1181922277488762880

[3] BBC. 2019. “Turkey’s Erdogan vows to ‘crush heads’ of Kurdish fighters”, BBC News, Oct. 9.https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-50108417

[4] Kirby, Jen. 2019. “9 questions about Turkey, Syria, and the Kurds you were too embarrassed to ask”, VOX News, Oct. 16. https://www.vox.com/world/2019/10/16/20908262/turkey-syria-kurds-trump-invasion-questions

[5] Cunningham, Erin and Steve Hendrix. 2019. “Kurdish forces withdraw from key town as part of cease-fire with Turkey”, Washington Post, Oct 20. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/kurdish-forces-withdraw-from-key-town-as-part-of-cease-fire-with-turkey/2019/10/20/8b28d9fc-f1cf-11e9-bb7e-d2026ee0c199_story.html

[6] Kirby, Jen. 2019. “9 questions about Turkey, Syria, and the Kurds you were too embarrassed to ask”, VOX News, Oct. 16. https://www.vox.com/world/2019/10/16/20908262/turkey-syria-kurds-trump-invasion-questions

[7] Kirby, Jen. 2019. “Turkey is attacking northeastern Syria, leaving US-backed Kurds at risk”, VOX News, Oct. 9. https://www.vox.com/world/2019/10/9/20906239/turkey-invades-syria-trump-erdogan-kurds

[8] Kirby, Jen. 2019. “9 questions about Turkey, Syria, and the Kurds you were too embarrassed to ask”, VOX News, Oct. 16. https://www.vox.com/world/2019/10/16/20908262/turkey-syria-kurds-trump-invasion-questions

[9] Alfonso III, Fernando. 2019. “The Latest on What’s Happening in Syria.” CNN, Oct. 20. https://edition.cnn.com/middleeast/live-news/syria-turkey-10-20-2019/index.html

[10] Baker, Peter, Eric Schmitt and Helene Cooper. 2019. “ISIS Leader al-Baghdadi Is Dead, Trump Says”, New York Times, Oct 27. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/27/us/politics/isis-leader-al-baghdadi-dead.html?module=inline

[11] Rasmussen, Sune Engel. 2019. “Kurdish Forces Withdraw From Syrian Border Area”, Wall Street Journal, Oct 20. https://www.wsj.com/articles/kurds-blame-turkey-for-hindering-exit-from-syrian-border-area-11571566257

 

[12] Schmitt, Eric and Helene Cooper. 2019. “Hundreds of US Troops Leaving, and Also Arriving in, Syria. New York Times, Oct. 30. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/30/world/middleeast/us-troops-syria-trump.html

[13] Parvaneh, Danush. 2019. “Why Turkey is Invading Syria”, Vox News, Oct. 31. https://www.vox.com/videos/2019/10/31/20942077/turkey-syria-invasion-erdogan-kurds-isis

[14] Safi, Michael. 2019. “Kurdish fighters leave Syrian border town, giving Turkey control”. The Guardian, Oct. 20. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/oct/20/nancy-pelosi-visits-jordan-to-discuss-turkish-syria-incursion

[15] Cunningham, Erin and Steve Hendrix. 2019. “Kurdish forces withdraw from key town as part of cease-fire with Turkey”, Washington Post, Oct 20. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/kurdish-forces-withdraw-from-key-town-as-part-of-cease-fire-with-turkey/2019/10/20/8b28d9fc-f1cf-11e9-bb7e-d2026ee0c199_story.html

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