Experts: Turkey's national security concerns driving operation east of Euphrates

Published 20.12.2018 00:00
Updated 20.12.2018 08:00

Turkey's national security concerns, which have been fueled by the unpredictable and insecure moves by the United States in northern Syria, have pushed Ankara to take the lead in completely eradicating terror threats on its borders with a military offensive, experts have said.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that Turkey was resolute on clearing the terrorist threats from its border following years of contradicting statements by the U.S. and its deepening cooperation with the PKK-affiliate People's Protection Units (YPG) in Syria.

Speaking at a panel of the Political, Economic and Social Research Foundation (SETA) yesterday, Giray Sadık, an associate professor at Yıldırım Beyazıt University, emphasized the difference between U.S. rhetoric and actions on Syria, which have been a serious source of concern for Turkey.

"The U.S. special envoy to Syria, James Jeffrey, said that U.S. does not have permanent relations with non-state actors. But Washington's rhetoric and actions are completely different. There is a discourse capability gap," he said. For Ankara, there is no difference between the YPG, which the U.S. has partnered with to fight against Daesh, and the PKK, a group officially recognized as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Turkey. As such, Turkey says the arming of the YPG in Syria by its NATO ally ultimately poses a threat to its national security. Can Acun, a Middle East expert, said at the panel that one of the main reasons that induced Turkey to carry out an operation was the U.S.' reckless attitude in northern Syria's Manbij.

"Also, Washington's long-term investment in the YPG and its decision to establish border posts was the final straw. The U.S. propelled Turkey to protect its border from Daesh when it decided to establish observation posts, which was ridiculous," he said.

Last month, the U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced that the country will set up observation posts with the YPG on several locations along the northern Syrian-Turkish border to "address NATO ally Turkey's legitimate security concerns." However, Ankara has conveyed its discomfort over the issue and regarded the move as an attempt to legitimize the YPG's existence in Syria.

A lot of experts are under the impression that the observation posts would be established with the aim of protecting the YPG from a likely Turkish military operation.

President Erdoğan said Monday that an offensive east of the Euphrates River to clear the region of the terrorist group is imminent and Turkey will launch it "within a matter of days." Erdoğan also stressed that he talked with U.S. President Donald Trump, who he said gave a positive response to Turkey's operation. Answering a question on Erdoğan-Trump meeting on Syria, Robert Palladino, the deputy spokesman of the U.S. State Department, confirmed on Tuesday that there was a misstatement on Trump's alleged approval on a possible operation on the Euphrates region.

"President Trump and President Erdoğan had discussed these issues in their telephone call last week, as did Secretary Pompeo and Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu in a separate call. Both of our countries remain focused on coordination to counter the threats that terror poses to Turkey, the region, and beyond, and we believe we're making progress with Turkey," he said.

The YPG sees the political vacuum and the Syrian civil war in the country as an opportunity to realize its ultimate goal of establishing an autonomous region in northern Syria. These two regional facts, combined with the U.S.' strong support, has increased the YPG's efforts for establishing its autonomy.

The YPG's aim, while threatening Syria's territorial integrity and also other ethnic local demographics, is seen as a threat posed to Turkey's sovereignty, as the group is organically linked with PKK terrorists. Ankara has long criticized the U.S.' partnership with the YPG, saying a terrorist group such as Daesh cannot be defeated with another one and that YPG is among the actors fueling instability in the region.

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