Everything old eventually becomes new again. Time Magazine begins its description of the “no fly zone” the Obama administration will implement over Syria by recalling how the same concept was implemented over Iraq from 1991 to 2003. Wikipedia notes ”the Iraqi no-fly zones were a set of two separate no-fly zones (NFZs), and were proclaimed by the United States, United Kingdom, and France after the Gulf War of 1991 to protect the Kurds in northern Iraq and Shiite Muslims in the south.” Though Time doesn’t mention it, readers may recall another “no-fly-zone” declared over Libya, ostensibly to “protect civilians” and to implement an “arms embargo”.
Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, “who oversaw the Iraqi no-fly zones as chief of U.S. Central Command from 1997 to 2000″ thinks the nomenclature in this instance is inaccurate. “It’s not a no-fly zone—it’s a bombing campaign,” Zinni said. Patrick Cockburn of the Independent actually believes its the Kurds who are about who’s going to get bombed by the Turks for the most part. ”Whatever America was hoping for, initial signs are that the Turkish government may be more interested in moving against the Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iraq than it is in attacking Isis. Ankara has previously said that it considers both the PKK and Isis to be ‘terrorists’.”
And indeed, not just the PKK but the YPG Turks complain they are now feeling the lash of Turkish might. The BBC reports: “the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) say Turkish tanks shelled their fighters near Kobane in northern Syria”.
If the claims are true, this will complicate matters for the coalition against IS as Western powers are co-operating with Syrian Kurds against the jihadists, says the BBC’s Mark Lowen in Istanbul.
The administration has denied they have traded access to Turkish airbases in exchange for greenlighting Anakara’s attacks on the Kurds, claiming it was all a coincidence.
Brett McGurk, Mr. Obama’s deputy special presidential envoy for the campaign against the Islamic State, tweeted over the weekend that “there is no connection between these airstrikes and recent understandings to intensify U.S.-Turkey cooperation against ISIL.”
State Department spokesman John Kirby went further Monday. “I understand the coincidence of all this, but it is just that,” he said.
Just a coincidence. Happenstance or not, it’s clear that Turkey effectively gets a piece of former Syrian territory, albeit under the control of proxies in the process of carving out its “safe zones”. A team from the New York Times describes what is known about the plan, which appears to extend Turkish control over Syrian territory being fought over by Assad and ISIS.
Turkey and the United States have agreed in general terms on a plan that envisions American warplanes, Syrian insurgents and Turkish forces working together to sweep Islamic State militants from a 60-mile-long strip of northern Syria along the Turkish border, American and Turkish officials say.
The plan would create what officials from both countries are calling an Islamic State-free zone controlled by relatively moderate Syrian insurgents, which the Turks say could also be a “safe zone” for displaced Syrians. …
That is an ambitious military goal, because it appears to include areas of great strategic and symbolic importance to the Islamic State, and it could encompass areas that Syrian helicopters regularly bomb. If the zone goes 25 miles deep into Syria, as Turkish news outlets have reported, it could encompass the town of Dabiq, a significant place in the group’s apocalyptic theology, and Manbij, another stronghold. It could also include the Islamic State-held town of Al Bab, where barrel bombs dropped by Syrian aircraft have killed scores, including civilians, in recent weeks.
American officials emphasized that the depth of the buffer zone to be established was one of the important operational details that had yet to be decided. But one senior official said, “You can be assured many of the principal population centers will be covered.”
The plan does not envision Turkish ground troops entering Syria, although long-range artillery could be used across the border. Turkish ground forces would work on their side of the border to stem the Islamic State’s ability to infiltrate foreign fighters and supplies into Syria.
According to the Institute for the Study of War, the coincidence Kirby refers to had its genesis in Turkish worries that growing Kurdish gains in Syria could be turned against them, agreed to give the US airbase access in exchange for the right to bottle up the Kurds.
The outlines of this agreement between the U.S. and Turkey appear to have been laid during a visit to Turkey by Gen. John Allen (ret.) and U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Christine Wormuth on July 7-8. Unconfirmed reports at the time suggested that the talks had resulted in preliminary approval for the coalition’s use of Incirlik Airbase after Turkey received assurances that the U.S. would consider Turkish proposals for a buffer zone in northern Syria and block any attempt by Syrian Kurdish forces to move into areas along the Turkish border west of the Euphrates River.
These accounts suggested that Turkey had offered a major concession by dropping its long-standing insistence that the international coalition expand its air campaign against ISIS to include airstrikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. This rebalancing suggests that recent developments may have led the Turkish government to prioritize the internal security threats posed by ISIS and the PKK over Turkey’s regional concerns regarding Iranian expansionism and the enduring presence of the Syrian regime.