It must have been about 6 months now since a Western colleague of mine told me that Turkey's foreign policy had gotten much more aggressive and that he found this odd.
According to him, Turkey giving up on its efforts for economic integration based on soft power and to be continually mentioned with military operations both domestically and over the border was a type of regression. Turkey was being damaged by this and Turkish-American relations were also being negatively affected.
When we had this conversation, the Afrin operation had not yet begun. I told him that Turkey would continue with its cross-border operations and that this was out of necessity, not choice. I expressed that in Turkey, both the administration and the public were aware of the serious threat posed by the PKK and that Western governments either ignored it or pretended to ignore it in order to push Turkey into a corner. And I also told him that I believed Turkey should begin an operation in Afrin as soon as possible. He responded by saying that if Turkey's aggressive attitude continued, there would be consequences. As I expressed in that conversation, Turkey developed a new security doctrine in order to avoid those consequences mentioned by my dear colleague. If the PKK hadn't used the political vacuum that occurred after the June 7, 2015 general election and the gains it made in Syria and begun a new and extensive terror wave, Turkey would not be at this point.
If Daesh had not carried out merciless terrorist attacks that killed hundreds of civilians in Turkey, Turkey might not have had to engage in cross-border operations. If the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) – still under the protection of the U.S. – had not attempted a military coup on July 15, 2017 and tried to topple an elected government, Turkey might not have even needed this new security doctrine. The nearly coordinated manner in which the PKK, Daesh, and FETÖ have shed blood and the instability they have tried to create over the past three years caused the administration to develop a pre-emptive strategy against terrorism. One of the fundamental elements of this strategy is the cross-border military operations. Turkey, with the Operation Euphrates Shield and Operation Olive Branch, is first and foremost attempting to ensure its own national security. But these are military operations that serve not only to wipe out terrorism from Syria but also to protect its territorial integrity. There are two elements that separate Turkey's military operations in Syria from those of other actors on the ground. The first is that Turkey is not on the ground in the form of an occupier. From the start Turkey has been attempting to ensure that areas liberated from terrorism are governed by those who have the right to do so. Turkey establishes an order in areas it has liberated from terrorism and then encourages Syrian refugees living within its borders to return to their homes.
The second important difference is that Turkey is truly trying to do its utmost to ensure no civilian lives are lost. Turkey neither does carpet bombing from the air, nor hits unconfirmed targets – the civilian losses that have been caused by Russia, Iran, the Assad regime, and the U.S. are all obvious. The latest U.N. Syria report puts forth this horrid truth. While Turkey is moving with extreme caution in Afrin so that civilians do not get hurt, the PKK continues with its strategy of using civilians as human shields. Murat Karayilan, one of the directors in the PKK, gave an order to members of the organization last week, stating, "There must be enough civilians in the [Afrin city] center. No one should fear the Turkish state. It can't bomb civilians. Because of this, our people should gather together." These words are essentially a confession of the PKK's strategy of using civilians as human shields. The PKK is doing everything it can to stop civilians from escaping Afrin. Turkey, on the other hand, is trying to make passages to ease civilians out of the city.It has not been two months since Turkey began the Afrin operation. The Turkey-Afrin border has been cleared of the PKK terror organization. The meaning of this is very clear for Turkey: no longer will there be rockets fired from rural areas of Afrin into Turkish cities and no longer will PKK militants be able to enter Turkey over the Amanos Mountains. Afrin's center will also be cleared of the PKK and afterward maybe Manbij? Let us speak of that in the coming days…