Turkey's Operation Olive Branch in Afrin has entered its fourth week. Although there have been some losses so far, the operation continues successfully. No one objects to the fact that Turkey is in Afrin to eliminate a threat against its national security. Recently, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis confirmed that the U.S. acknowledges Ankara's security concerns, but despite these statements, the U.S. still keeps harboring and siding with the People's Protection Units (YPG), which is a terrorist group explicitly targeting Turkey.
This week has been critical in terms of Turkish-U.S. relations. On Sunday, U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster paid a visit to Turkey and met with presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın. Yesterday, National Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli met Mattis in Brussels. Also, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Turkey on Thursday night for important meetings with top Turkish officials.
The U.S. obviously wants to keep Turkey as an ally, yet the country refuses to review its YPG policy. Recently, the Pentagon announced its budget allocated to groups, including the YPG. This year, they increased the groups' funding by $70 million. In other words, the U.S. continues to aid the outlawed PKK's Syrian affiliate Democratic Union Party's (PYD) militia, despite the warnings from Ankara.
Furthermore, Mattis recently announced that some units of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are headed to Afrin. Although Washington declared that it would stop aiding those going to Afrin, the YPG apparently knows that the U.S. will still condone it. According to the BBC's monitoring service, YPG members traveling from northeastern Syria are arriving in Afrin by the southern route controlled by the Assad regime, which clearly demonstrates that Bashar Assad also condones the YPG, since its activities serve the regime's purposes. The regime is piling on support to the YPG in order to hamper the success of the Afrin operation.
In a nutshell, Turkey is fighting against various forces in Afrin. The terrorist group in question is harbored by the U.S. and receives indirect support from Russia, while being condoned and aided by the Assad regime. Can meetings with U.S. officials change this equation? Can Turkish-U.S. relations be restored after this?
Even though the U.S. pursues an utterly insidious policy, I do not think that it is willing to lose Turkey as an ally. The country insists on supporting the YPG, but it will surely avoid facing off with Turkey. I do not believe that Turkey, which is determined to intervene in Manbij, will enter a hot conflict with the U.S. in the city.
The U.S. still assumes that it can impose any policy it wants on Turkey as in the past and wavers when it sees that this is no longer possible. Turkey is not the country they knew from Operation Provide Comfort in Iraq. It is no longer passive on policies that affect its national interests, but determines its own policies, diversifies its own air defense systems and enters conflicts when it sees fit.
There is no way back from this path. The sources I spoke to also confirmed that Ankara is determined to maintain the operation. The Turkish government is determined to use all of its resources against the YPG threat since it foresees that a "terror corridor" in the region would also claim a part of Turkish territory if Turkey remains silent now. Therefore, the operations will continue. As in Afrin, Turkey will not back down in Manbij, either. If the operations succeed, the country will consolidate its power and position in the Middle East. Of course, this is not an easy task and entails great risks, but it can be contended that a new era will start for Turkey if the risks are successfully dealt with. This era cannot be explained through factors like an axis shift. Turkey will continue being versatile and closely integrated in the rest of the world while maintaining good relations with the West. Yet this time, it will be much more active and steer the direction of the future