Turkish Forces Bomb Kurdish Positions
The Turks have entered the conflict in Syria. Unfortunately for the United States, it's not on the side we would prefer.
The Turks have been sitting on the sidelines of the war in Syria for sometime now, but today they made a statement. Unfortunately for the United States, they did so by bombing Kurdish forces:
ISTANBUL — Turkish fighter jets struck Kurdish insurgent positions in southeastern Turkey on Monday, shaking the country’s fragile peace process with the Kurds and demonstrating the complexities surrounding the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State, which Turkey is under heavy pressure to join.
Turkish news reports said the strikes had been aimed at fighters of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, known as the P.K.K., and were in retaliation for the shelling of a Turkish military base.
Such airstrikes were once common, as Turkey fought a Kurdish insurgency in a conflict that claimed almost 40,000 lives over nearly three decades. But hostilities essentially ceased two years ago when the peace process began, and both the Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah and an online statement from the P.K.K. said the airstrikes on Monday were the first since then. The Turkish military also released a statement, but it did not mention airstrikes specifically, only an exchange of fire with “terrorists.”
The action is likely to reverberate far beyond Turkey’s borders, and raise further questions about Turkey’s willingness to take on what the United States and many experts say is a much greater enemy, one that should unite the Turks and the Kurds: the extremists of the Islamic State, also known asISIS or ISIL, who have taken control of large parts of Iraq and Syria.
In Syria, the Kurdish city Kobani, just over the border from Turkey, has been under siege by the Islamic State, prompting calls for intervention by the Turkish military, which has positioned troops nearby. Nearly 200,00 refugees have fled into Turkey from the city. The Turks, though, have been reluctant to step in militarily, because the fighters defending Kobani belong to an offshoot of the P.K.K.
The group, called the Democratic Union Party or P.Y.D., has carved out a measure of autonomy in some parts of northern Syria amid the chaos of the civil war there, and Turks see it as a security threat to Turkey.
Even before the airstrikes, Turkey’s unwillingness to do more to relieve Kobani, despite pressure from the United States and other countries, had spilled over into the streets of Turkish cities, where more than 30 people were killed last week in violence surrounding protests.
The Kurds have not sought Turkish military action in Kobani, but have pressed for Kurdish fighters to be allowed to pass through Turkish territory to join the fight in Syria. After the street protests, Kurdish leaders appealed for calm and for the continuation of the peace process, and tensions have eased for now.
Given the long standing conflict between Turkey and the P.K.K., it perhaps isn’t surprising that things have escalated yet again, especially given that the Turks are giving the perception that they are perfectly okay with sitting on the other side of the border watching Islamic State forces pound the Kurds in and around Kobani. Despite that, though, this is hardly going to make the process going forward any easier. As I’ve discussed before, the Turkish (and Kurdish) demand for a two-front war in Syria simply isn’t in American interests and would likely detract from the the mission that the President has set to “degrade and destroy” IS/ISIS. The other issue, of course is the fact that we have America’s most militarily powerful ally in the region, and a NATO ally at that, is seemingly doing everything it can to frustrate American plans. In addition to the inaction around Kobani, there’s also the ongoing disputes about whether the Turks would allow the U.S. to use bases in Turkey to launch attacks against IS/ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria. This dispute burst into the open over the weekend when both the Pentagon and, later, National Security Adviser Susan Rice in an appearance on Meet The Press, said that an agreement had been reached to allow American use of the basis to strike IS/ISIS. Yesterday, the Turkish government denied that any such agreement had been reached, a move which was obviously highly embarrassing to the American officials who had apparently believed that an agreement had been reached. In many ways, the difficulties the United States is having with Turkey now are reminiscent of the problems the Bush Administration had in getting permission to use Turkey as the launching pad for an attack on Iraq from the North by the 4th Infantry Division that would have come at the same time as the attack from the south that started the Gulf War. For an ally, Turkey has been quite uncooperative to say the least.
None of this bodes well for the President’s plan against IS/ISIS, of course. Such as it is, the international coalition is, by and large, the United States acting in concert with limited assistance from the French and the British, both of whom appear to only be engaging in activity in Iraq for the moment. The Arab nations that have pledged support, such as the UAE and Kuwait, have conducted some operations, apparently, but those have generally been in concert with American forces who ended up doing most of the work. The Turks getting involved, in the air or on the ground, or preferably both, would be a bigger addition to the mix even if it wouldn’t be a game changer. It would appear, however, that our ostensible ally has plans of its own that don’t involve cooperating with the United States.