Turkish military planes bombed the Afrin region in Syria where a U.S.-backed Kurdish militia was being created. Turkish President Erdogan had been warning for weeks that he would destroy the force, calling them “terrorists.”
No ground action against the Kurds has been seen, but most observers believe that the Turkish army massing on the border of Syria will be used to kick the Kurds out of what has become an autonomous Kurdish region.
The Turkish military said its operation in Afrin was to provide safety for Turkey’s border and to “eliminate terrorists… and save friends and brothers, the people of the region, from their cruelty.”
We will destroy the terror corridor gradually as we did in Jarabulus and Al-Bab operations, starting from the west,” Turkey’s Erdogan said, referring to previous operations in northern Syria designed to push out Islamic State and check the YPG’s advance.
Earlier on Saturday, the military said it hit shelters and hideouts used by the YPG and other Kurdish fighters, saying Kurdish militants had fired on Turkish positions inside Turkey.
But the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces – of which the YPG is a major component – accused Turkey on Saturday of using cross-border shelling as a false pretext to launch an offensive in Syria.
Differences over Syria policy have further complicated Turkey’s already difficult relationship with NATO ally the United States. Washington has backed the YPG, seeing it as an effective partner in the fight against Islamic State.
A U.S. State Department official on Friday said military intervention by Turkey in Syria would undermine regional stability and would not help protect Turkey’s border security.
Instead, the United States has called on Turkey to focus on the fight against Islamic State. Ankara accuses Washington of using one terrorist group to fight another in Syria.
The U.S. is denying that it is setting up a “border force,” but it’s clear that we have given our blessing to the Kurds setting up a force along the border with Turkey to maintain the territorial gains they made in the chaos of the Syrian civil war. In addition to the Kurds, other militias that assisted the U.S. in the fight against ISIS would also take part.
Secretary of State Tillerson claims there is no “border force,” but whatever Tillerson wants to call it, it is coming into being and will help patrol the Syrian border to prevent ISIS from concentrating its strength.
Naturally, Syrian President Assad is not happy and has threatened to destroy the force as well. But Turkey, which fears not only the Kurdish “terrorists” but also the establishment of an independent Kurdish state, cannot abide what they see as a threat on their border.
The fallout from these attacks will include a further deterioration in relations between the U.S. and Turkey. But while the U.S. cannot assist the Kurds when they are being attacked, we can run interference for the Kurds in the international arena.
It won’t do much good if Erdogan gets serious about destroying the Kurdish militia.