Turkey's most recent military campaign launched on Jan. 20, Operation Olive Branch, has caused some major backlash vis-à-vis its objective. The international community and particularly Western media have jumped to the conclusion that Turkey's counterterrorism operation in Afrin is nothing more than a strategic move to display Turkish hard power. These fallacious assumptions misrepresent the objective of Operation Olive Branch and challenge Turkey's right to defend its borders.
The operation was given the green light after the United States revealed plans to set up a 30,000-person border security force formed from the People's Protection Units' (YPG) ranks in Syria. This came as a massive slap in the face to Turkey, as the U.S. – Turkey's long-time ally – has acknowledged the link that exists between the PKK, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its YPG militia. Former U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter admitted that the PYD and the YPG have links to the PKK and the U.S. officially recognizes the PKK as a foreign terrorist organization. Therefore it is imperative to question why the U.S. has all of sudden changed course in its foreign policy?
Could it be that it is looking to hold on to what little power and influence it has left in Syria? It sure seems that way.Western media has been very quick to denounce Operation Olive Branch, and therefore challenge, and even perhaps question Turkey's inherent right to defend its borders. An article in The New York Times says that Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are close allies of the United States and it also adds that while the State Department designated the PKK as a terrorist group, it does not consider the YPG to be one.The double standard present in this statement arises from the fact that the SDF is a rebranded version of the YPG. The rebranding came as Ankara shared its concerns of the alliance between the YPG and U.S., and in 2015, amid U.S. pressure, the YPG rebranded as the SDF.
U.S. Army Gen. Raymond Thomas said: "We literally played back to them: You have to change your brand. What do want to call yourselves besides the YPG? With about a day's notice they declared that they are the Syrian Democratic Forces." On this it is clear that the U.S. continues to two time both Turkey and the YPG, and as a result is tarnishing its ties with its long-time ally. Therefore, the constant denial that is present in Western media about the U.S sponsoring the PKK is getting old. It is clear as day that the U.S has no loyalties to its allies.
The U.S. adding more insecurity in volatile regions is definitely not a new phenomenon, as for many years it has claimed to be universal peacekeepers, but it is clear that it has continued to add more insecurity to areas that are fragile and volatile. Take for example its failed peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan, its ill-executed invasion of Iraq and its continued presence in Syria to prevent the re-emergence of Daesh. All at what cost? Its reckless behavior in backing YPG militants in Syria not only puts Turkey in a position of great security risk, but also damages any credibility it has left in trying to foster international stability.
The assumption that the U.S. is the only legitimate state in combating terrorism and creating stability in fragile regions most definitely falls short when looking at its political motivations in Afrin. One can contend that due to its waning power in Syria, the U.S. is using the YPG to hold on to what little influence it has left, putting Turkey in a position of grave insecurity. It is clear as day that the intention of the PYD and its YPG is to create an autonomous, terrorist state along the borders of Turkey, Iraq and Syria that will no doubt be used to launch terrorist attacks on Turkey. Therefore, Ankara is indeed justified in defending its border against the emergence of a YPG army backed by the United States. Every nation-state has the inherent right to defend its borders, as this entrenched right is given to all states under Chapter VII, Article 51 of the United Nations Charter in which it explicitly states that "nothing shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence" in order to maintain international peace and security.
Turkish officials further back this claim in stating that the objective of Operation Olive Branch is to prevent cross-border attacks by the YPG into Turkey, which target security forces as well as innocent Turkish and Kurdish civilians. The ongoing conflict between the Turkish state, the PKK and its affiliate groups has claimed thousands of lives. For that reason, it is imperative to question U.S. motives and interests. U.S. hypocrisy reared its ugly head yet again, but this time at Turkey's cost, and the backing of an ally's enemy is most definitely the worst form of treachery.
* Associate researcher at TRT World Research Centre