The Turkish assault is not likely to be over very soon
The evolving situation on the Turkish-Syrian-Iraqi Kurdish border continues to create anxiety not only in that region but also in the European Union and the United States’ domestic political arena.
The Kurds had proved to be Washington’s most effective partner in trying to control the chaos created by the so-called caliphate of Islamic State (IS). Such a continuing move was not taken lightly by Turkey.
Their strategic interest was focused on the fact that such reliance on the Kurds by the US was encouraging the separatist Kurdish movement in Turkey, known as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces created its own dynamics for the Turkish government. Nevertheless, this latest episode raised questions about the future relationship between the US and Turkey, both members of NATO.
As the situation deteriorated, the dynamics took a different course. First, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denied that the US had given Turkey a greenlight for the offensive.
Subsequently, there was direct contact between Erdogan and Trump -- with Trump suggesting that Turkey needed to re-think its course of action; US Vice President Pence and Pompeo flew into Turkey to persuade Erdogan to agree to a cease-fire.
There was also the warning that if Turkey did not concur to a cease-fire, it would lead to the US issuing sanctions against Turkish Ministries of Defense and Energy as well as on the Ministers of Defense, Energy, and Interior.
The Syrian government had sent its army to the northern border to try to halt Turkey’s offensive -- these factors led Turkey to agree to a cease-fire.
The current fighting has assumed different dimensions and that is proving to be a source of growing concern for security strategists from many countries. The fighting has apparently spilled over to areas close to IS detainee camps.
The other aspect revolves around the fact that the offensive has been mounted at a time when the US-led effort to destroy the Daesh in Syria is winding down, with the US keen to end its military involvement ahead of next year’s Presidential election.
The Kurds fighting the Turkish incursion are now pointing out that they are no longer able to ensure a complete guarantee of guarding IS prisoners. This means that they might be able to escape and join their terrorist comrades -- allowing the Daesh to rebuild its strength.
Such fears on the part of the Kurdish forces have already started happening. Their fears that they will be unable to keep IS prisoners confined appear to have been realized when officials at the Ain Issa camp reported that nearly 800 relatives of foreign IS members had escaped from custody. It is also not known where they have gone.
It is understood that there are nearly 12,000 suspected IS members in seven prisons, and at least 4,000 of them are foreign nationals. Turkey, to defuse the crisis, has observed that it will take responsibility for IS prisoners it finds during its offensive.
In this regard, Turkey will be relying also on Turkish-backed Syrian rebels from the Free Syrian Army who have also been involved in the fighting.
The deal between the SDF and the Syrian government represents a significant shift in alliances for the Kurds, after losing the military protection of their long-term US partners in the area. The SDF Chief Mazloum Abdi has expressed his anxiety about the deal with the Assad government and its Russian allies.
One does not consider that the Turkish assault is likely to be over very soon. There will be ramifications that will emerge in their own time. All these aspects will also be monitored very carefully by the regional countries.
Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance, can be reached at [email protected]