Turkish attacks on America’s Kurdish allies echo the Ukraine war

Turkish attacks on America’s Kurdish allies echo the Ukraine war

Bucharest, Romania –

US President Joe Biden’s administration is toughening its language toward NATO ally Turkey as it tries to dissuade Turkish President Recep Erdogan from launching a bloody and destabilizing ground offensive against US-allied Kurdish forces in neighboring Syria.

Since November 20, after six people died in a bomb attack in Istanbul a week earlier – which Turkey blamed without evidence on the US and its Kurdish allies in Syria – Turkey has launched cross-border airstrikes, rockets and shells against the US and the Kurds. -patrolled areas in Syria and left Kurdish burial units burying scores of dead.

Some criticized the initial muted US response to the near-daily Turkish bombardment – a broad call for “de-escalation” – as a US green light for more. As Erdogan did not back down on his threat to escalate, the US began to speak more forcefully.

FILE - Syrians walk in a refugee camp for displaced people run by the Turkish Red Crescent in Sarmada district, north of Idlib city, Syria, November 26, 2021. FILE - Syrians walk in a refugee camp for displaced people run by the Turkish Red Crescent in Sarmada district, north of Idlib city, Syria, November 26, 2021.

US appeals for calm do not resonate along the Turkish-Syrian border

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called his Turkish counterpart on Wednesday to express “strong opposition” to Turkey launching a new military operation in northern Syria.

And National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Friday made one of the administration’s first specific mentions of the impact of the Turkish attacks on the Kurdish militia known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is working with the U.S. against the Islamic State militants holed up in northern Syria.

Widespread repercussions

How successfully the U.S. handles Erdogan’s threat to send troops against America’s Kurdish partners in the coming weeks will affect global security concerns far beyond the isolated corner of Syria.

That is especially true of the Ukraine conflict. The Biden administration is keen on Erdogan working with other NATO partners to counter Russia, particularly in persuading Turkey to drop its objections to Finland and Sweden joining NATO.

But giving Turkey free rein in attacks against the Syrian Kurds in the hope of securing Erdogan’s cooperation within NATO would have major security consequences of its own.

US forces on Friday halted joint military patrols with Kurdish forces in northern Syria to counter Islamic State extremists, as the Kurds concentrate on defending themselves against Turkish air and artillery strikes and a possible ground invasion.

Since 2015, the Syrian Kurdish forces have worked with the few hundred US forces on the ground there, capturing territory from the Islamic State and then imprisoning thousands of IS fighters and their families and fighting the remaining Islamic State fighters. On Saturday, the US and the Kurds resumed limited patrols at one of the prison camps.

“ISIS is the forgotten story of the world and the United States, because of the focus on Ukraine,” said Omer Taspinar, an expert on Turkey and European security at the Brookings Institution and the National War College. ISIS is a widely used acronym for the Islamic State.

“Tragically, what would revive Western support for the Kurds … would be another ISIS terrorist attack, God forbid, in Europe or in the United States that will remind people that we haven’t actually defeated ISIS,” Taspinar said.

Turkey says the Syrian Kurds are allies of a nearly four-decade-long PKK Kurdish insurgency in southeastern Turkey that has left tens of thousands dead on both sides. The US’s Syrian-Kurdish allies deny any attacks in Turkey.

The US Central Command, and many in Congress, hail the Syrian Kurds as brave comrades in arms. In July, Central Command angered Turkey by tweeting condolences for a Syrian Kurdish deputy commander and two other female fighters killed in a drone strike blamed on Turkey.

In 2019, a public outcry from his fellow Republicans and many others killed a plan by President Donald Trump, which he announced after a call with Erdogan, to clear US troops out of the way of an expected Turkish attack on Kurdish allies in Syria.

Then-presidential candidate and now US President Joe Biden was among those who expressed outrage.

“The Kurds were integral in helping us defeat ISIS – and too many lost their lives. Now President Trump has abandoned them. It’s shameful,” Biden tweeted at the time.

The measured U.S. response now — even after some Turkish attacks have hit near locations hosting U.S. forces — reflects the significant strategic role that Turkey, as a NATO member, plays in the alliance’s efforts to counter Russia in Europe. The State Department and USAID did not immediately respond to questions about whether the Turkish strikes had hindered aid workers and operations partnering with the United States.

Trying to exert leverage

Turkey, with strong ties to both Russia and the United States, has contributed to its NATO allies’ efforts against Russia in important ways during the Ukraine conflict. That includes supplying armed drones to Ukraine and helping to mediate between Russia and the United States and others.

But Turkey is also trying to exert influence within the alliance by blocking Finland and Sweden from joining NATO. Turkey is demanding that Sweden hand over Kurdish exiles it says are affiliated with the PKK Kurdish insurgents.

Turkey’s state news agency reported that Sweden extradited a member of the PKK, and he was arrested Saturday on arrival in Istanbul.

Turkey is one of only two of the 30 NATO members that have not yet signed the Nordic countries’ NATO membership. Hungary, the other, is expected to do so.

At a gathering of NATO foreign ministers in Bucharest, Romania, last week, NATO diplomats refrained from publicly confronting Turkey and avoided giving offense that could further set back the cause of Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership.

Turkey’s foreign minister made it clear to his European counterparts that Turkey had not yet been appeased when it came to Finland or Sweden accepting Kurdish exiles there.

“We reminded that in the end it is the Turkish people and the Turkish parliament that must be convinced,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters on the sidelines.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected on Thursday to speak with the foreign ministers of Finland and Sweden about handling Turkey’s objections to their NATO accession.

Experts say the Biden administration has plenty of leverage to exert privately to urge Erdogan to relent in the threatened escalated attack on Syrian Kurds. That includes the sale of US F-16 fighter jets that Turkey wants but has been opposed by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez and others in Congress.

There is a third major security risk in the US’s handling of Turkey’s invasion threat, along with the possible impact on the Ukraine conflict and on efforts to contain the Islamic State.

That’s the risk for the Kurds, a stateless people and frequent US ally often abandoned by the US and the West in previous conflicts over the past century.

If the US stands by as Turkey escalates attacks on the Syrian Kurds that helped defeat the Islamic State, “especially in the aftermath of Afghanistan, what message are we sending to the Middle East?” asked Henri J. Barkey, an expert on Kurds and Turkey at the Council on Foreign Relations and at Lehigh University.

“And to all allies in general?” Barkey asked.

An ethnic group of millions at the intersection of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria, Kurds lost out on a state of their own when the United States and other powers carved up the remnants of the Turkish Ottoman Empire after World War I.

Saddam Hussein and other regional leaders used poison gas, airstrikes and other tools of mass slaughter over the decades to suppress the Kurds. As under US President George HW Bush in 1991 after the Gulf War, the US sometimes encouraged popular uprisings but stood by when Kurds died in the resulting massacres.

On November 28, hundreds of Syrian Kurds gathered for the victims of one of the Turkish airstrikes – five guards killed to secure the al-Hol camp, which houses thousands of family members of Islamic State fighters.

Relatives of one of the Kurdish guards, Saifuddin Mohammed, placed his photo on his grave.

“We are obviously proud,” said his brother, Abbas Mohammed. “He defended his country and his honor against the Turkish invasion forces.”

    Source: sn.dk

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