Turkey launched a counterterrorism offensive, Operation Olive Branch, to the Afrin canton of Syria after Operation Euphrates Shield was very successful against regional terrorist groups in 2016. By using its right of self-defense according to Article 51 of United Nations Charter, Turkey aims to provide security to both its own citizens and to the Syrians.
As a matter of fact, the triggering factor of the operation was the Russian attack from the southern part of Idlib where Turkey set up some de-conflict zones a little further north for the sake of removing radical extremist groups. This movement was perceived as a threat by the U.S. and the Pentagon and they rapidly declared the establishment of a regular army which was composed of the People's Protection Units (YPG). This declaration made Turkey nervous, as expressed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, "Unilateral actions by the U.S. in Syria have infuriated Turkey. Either it misunderstands the different dynamics in Syria or engages in deliberate provocation. It is using Kurds [YPG militants] to establish control over Syria's border with Turkey.
The U.S. has embarked on the creation of alternative authorities in large parts of Syrian territory. Washington supplies modern arms to groups that cooperate with them, especially the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is largely dominated by the YPG."There are some parameters for Turkey launching this operation, such as the U.S. choosing to cooperate with terrorist groups and thus increasing their power, the uncertainty of the U.S.'s regional policy, the terror threat near Turkish borders, the evacuation of Daesh militants in Raqqa with the help of U.S.-backed YPG forces, the refugee crisis and so on.
However, the most important factor for Turkey to initiate this offensive was the terror corridor on its border that threatened the security of its people and state. The operation aims to advance to Afrin because the Syrian city was planned to be the capital of a statelet formed by the PKK/YPG.
Nevertheless, Turkey's allies, particularly its NATO ally the U.S., have a different perception of the PKK/YPG terrorist group. Washington is supporting, both military and politically, the deadly terrorist group, which hampers Turkey's efforts in the region.
Cold war confrontation
Meanwhile, there has been a quarrel going on between Russia and the U.S. in the region since the Syrian civil war erupted. The two super powers compare their approaches on regional actors. In this context, it is important to bear in mind that Turkey is very crucial for Russia thanks to its membership in NATO.
With its cooperation with Turkey, Russia is trying to send a message to NATO while attempting to increase its influence in the Middle East, taking advantage of both Obama and Trump's clumsy policies in Syria. The most important expectation of Russia is to become a permanent actor in the eastern part of the Mediterranean with its bases located in Syria's Latakia and Tartus.
So to speak, Syria should be the "Israel of Russia." By trying to force Turkey to have contact with the Assad regime, Russia is trying to completely detract Ankara from the U.S.
The U.S.'s aims in the region are very similar to its other plans in the Middle East.
On the other hand, the U.S. is looking to confront Turkey and Russia by preventing or impeding Turkey's activities to establish the observation points in Idlib which is vitally significant for Russian policies: Gaining all of the energy resources in the Middle East. That's why it is invading Syrian territories.
Why is the U.S. insisting on cooperating with the PKK's Syrian affiliate? The first reason is the misguided and ambiguous policy of the U.S. shaped by its wrong choices such as not cooperating with NATO ally Turkey. It is arming and equipping the YPG at a very low cost, using it for its various interests and strategies. The YPG terrorist group had evacuated Arabs, Turkmens and moderate Kurds from areas under its control. It is backed and supervised by the U.S. Special Forces and defense companies under the pretext of fighting Daesh. It is safe to say that Washington has long-term plans with the YPG. The first and biggest target is to form a terrorist entity in the region including areas near Turkey's borders which have access to the Mediterranean Sea.
Not surprisingly, Operation Olive Branch has increased the tension in bilateral relations between Turkey and the U.S since it directly targets the U.S.'s partner in the region. The U.S. even threatened NATO for the first time to take action against Turkey, showing how desperate the Trump administration is.
The offensive proved that Turkey is one of the most significant regional actors and it was understood that no plan can be realized without Turkey's will.
Finally, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and Pentagon-led policies on the YPG leads the establishment of coherent and strong strategic alliance between Turkey and Russia. This constructive dialogue between Ankara and Moscow was extended into cooperation in nuclear energy, energy pipe-line investments, air defense systems and the consensus on the territorial integrity of Syria.
As a result, this strategic togetherness will be crowned by their coordination in a possible Manbij operation and by their achievement in implementing the decisions taken in Sochi congress which proposes to set up a Committee of the Constitution and to emphasize the territorial integrity of Syria in process of stabilization and a peaceful future for the region.
Turkey's involvement in the Astana talks together with Russia and Iran was definitely a significant step for the country to play a more constructive role in shaping the future of its neighbor Syria.
Briefly, in this arm wrestling, Turkey should be the "stabilizer of the balance" as a rational state behaving with its strategic wisdom, and it should implement a public policy against the perception operations that will be enacted, especially during the fights that will take place on the streets of Afrin.
* Dean of Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, Head of Political Science and International Relations at Dumlupinar University
Please click to read our informative text prepared pursuant to the Law on the Protection of Personal Data No. 6698 and to get information about the cookies used on our website in accordance with the relevant legislation.
6698 sayılı Kişisel Verilerin Korunması Kanunu uyarınca hazırlanmış aydınlatma metnimizi okumak ve sitemizde ilgili mevzuata uygun olarak kullanılan çerezlerle ilgili bilgi almak için lütfen tıklayınız.