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“Turkey’s Syria Intervention,” by Joshua Landis

29 August 2016
“Turkeys Syria Intervention,” by Joshua Landis

“Turkey’s Syria Intervention,” by Joshua Landis Posted by Joshua on Sunday, August 28th, 2016

I answer questions asked me by a Turkish journalist.

Has Turkey established a No Fly Zone over the Azaz-Jarablus pocket?

Turkey has established a No Kurd Zone over the Jarablus pocket, not a NFZ. The US has control of air. When it leaves, Russia will resume control over the airspace, not Turkey. This is undoubtedly why Russia and the Syrian government signed onto the intervention and why US planes flew cover for Turkish and Arab troops and not Turkish planes.

2. Do you think the US will stay and provide air cover in that area (between Azaz-Jarablus) for a long time? Don’t you think this (Turkey attacking Kurds) will bring Turkey, Russia and Assad closer to each other?

I doubt the US Air Force will play an active role in providing air cover in the area. My hunch is that Turkey and Russia have an understanding about non-interference in a specific region. But it does beg the question of what happens at the edges of that agreed upon area. All forces are likely to get draw into a quagmire of conflicting national agendas. I doubt Turkey’s attack on the Kurds will bring Turkey, Russia and Assad closer to each other. Yes, Assad and Russia are pleased to see the Kurdish-American juggernaut stopped. Neither Syrian Arabs nor Turks want to see a contiguous Kurdish state stretching the length of Syria’s border with Turkey. All the same, Assad and Turkey remain bitter enemies. Turkey is promoting and arming rebel groups that plan to destroy Assad and conquer all of Syria. Assad hopes to drive Turkish backed groups from the country. The two will come into conflict sooner than later. Their common enmity for the Kurds is a bad foundation for understanding. Turkey will become drawn into the Syrian quagmire. Kurdish groups and some Arab militias will begin to attack the Turkish presence in Syria. This will suck Turkey into the fighting. The Syrian gov & Russia will promote these attacks. They have an interest in bleeding Turkey. They hope it will make Ankara more amenable to compromise. Turkey has already been weakened by the burden of refugees, renewed war with the Kurds, exacerbated internal Sunni-Shiite discord, the failed coup attempt, the collapse of its Zero Enemies policy, and a sinking economy. Sending Turkish forces into Syria is only likely to continue this downward spiral. Turkish direct participation in the Syria conflict is unlikely to lead to a solution. Rather it is likely to prolong Syria’s agony. If we have learned anything from the Syrian conflict it is that the more external actors are willing to provide money, arms and firepower to Syrian proxies, the longer the war will gone on and the less likely one side is to win.

3. If US insisted on Turkey’s operation, does this mean US didn’t expect Turkey to attack YPG? Now that Turkish forces are hitting them, do you expect US to withdraw its air support?

The US made it clear to the YPG that it had to pull its forces back east of the Euphrates. This means that if they remain in the Menbij area or continue to try to build a continuous state between Afrin and Kobani, Turkey and its Arab militia allies will kill them.

4. Do assume Turkey will stay there for long? I believe that Turkey will have to play a long-term role in northern Syria if it is to ensure the survival of its proxy militias and permanently keep out the YPG and Assad forces. They will not give up their ambitions to control the area. The Arab militias are a weak reed upon which to build a Turkish policy in Syria.

5. My last question is: Don’t you think that Turkey, Russia and Assad have reached an agreement? Ankara may have promised Putin that it will slowly withdraw its support for the Arab militias around Aleppo and will keep silent about Asad; whereas Putin may have approved Turkey’s operation and promised to withdraw its jets from that area and its support for the Kurds. What do you think?

Yes, indeed, the three governments seem to have struck an accord. The Russians did not object to Turkey’s intervention to stop the YPG, suggesting an understanding. Of course, the Syrian government did object, but it had to. This suggests that an agreement between the parties was arrived at. Russia and the Syrian government would insist that Turkey’s intervention be limited in scope. We still don’t know to what extent, or if Turkey has agreed to cut off arms supplies to the rebels. But we can assume that the softening of Turkey’s position that Assad must step down is part of this understanding. It is quite clear that the United States no longer expects the rebels to win in Syria. The Turkish government also seems to have resigned itself to the survival of the Assad government in the medium term if not indefinitely. Turkey’s acceptance of Assad’s survival are the terms being demanded by Damascus for cooperation in thwarting YPG expansion. How far Erdogan will go in articulating such an acceptance or cutting off assistance to the rebels remains unclear.