Turkey’s military offensive in Afrin Syria, against U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces led by the Kurdish YPG militia, dubbed “Operation Olive Branch,” backfired with eight Turkish troops lost in battle. With Russian air support, designed to punish the U.S., Turkey launched its military operation on its southern border, labeling the YPG “terrorists.” Turkey’s 63-year-old autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed retaliation against the Kurds who Erdogan lumps in with Kurdish Workers Party [PKK] with whom Turkey has been at war for years, since the Ottoman Empire was broken up in 1922 after WW II. Unlike the Turks, the Kurds were left with no sovereign territory after the Nov. 1, 1922 Paris Peace Conference completed the Treaty of Versailles. Turkey was confined to its original borders, forced to leave a wide swath of territory seized by the Ottomans over 500 years.
Erdogan knows that the U.S. partnered with the YPG to rid Syria of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS], occupying large swaths of Iraq and Syria since declaring its caliphate June 30, 2014. Taking arms-and-cash from the U.S. for nearly six years, the YPG succeeded in driving ISIS out of Aleppo Dec. 18, 2016 and out of its capital of Raqqa Oct. 17, 2017. Once Syria Democratic Forces completed its mission in Aleppo, Erdogan, who strongly backed the seven-year-old Saudi proxy war to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, turned the Turkish military on the YPG. Before Erdogan turned his ire on the YPG, Iraq’s Kurdish forces, led by 71-year-old Massoud Barzani, had their setbacks. Barzani held a Kurdish impendence vote Sept. 25, 2017, only to watch it backfire, when Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abidi sent the army to Mosul to evict the Kurds Oct. 18, 2017.
Knowing the Kurds were beaten by Iraq in Mosul, Erdogan grabbed the chance to attack the U.S.-backed YPG in Afrin. After mending fences with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkey played the Kremlin against Washington, getting Putin’s blessings to attack the YPG. Syrian Democratic Forces were primed under former President Barack Obama for six years to topple the al-Assad government. Putin knows that under President Donald Trump, the YPG no longer seeks to remove al-Assad. Yet Putin played into Turkey’s longstanding hatred against the PKK, seizing the chance to lash out at the YPG. Taking casualties in Afrin, Turkey vowed to retaliate, not recognizing that they have no business attacking the YPG. While Trump cannot officially go against a NATO ally with Turkey, he turned a blind eye, letting the YPG defend themselves against Erdogan’s onslaught.
Turkey talked tough launching “Operation Olive Branch” with its mixed metaphor. Erdogan gave the Turkish army the green light to massacre the Kurds’ YPG militia, branding it a terror group. Erdogan has a way of turning truth on its head, especially after the July 16, 2016 coup blamed on 76-year-old exiled Salafist Cleric Fetullah Gulen. Erdogan’s been unsuccessful convincing the U.S. to extradite Gulen from his compound in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains. Erdogan likes to blame the Kurds but takes no responsibility for buying illicit ISIS oil for the three years they controlled Iraq’s oil fields. Even Putin acknowledged after Turkey shot down a Su-25 Russian fighter jet Nov. 24, 2015 that Erdogan turned a blind eye while his son Bilal bought ISIS’s illicit Iraqi oil. Turkey promised retaliation against the latest Kurdish military action.
Turkey’s decision to attack the YPG shows Erdogan’s hubris in the wake of the 2015 failed coup. While there’s zero indication the Kurds had anything to do with the coup, Erdogan likes to find a scapegoat. Turkey has proved over the last 100 years that it’s on the wrong side of history, backing the Germans in WW I and WW II. Now Erdogan’s exploiting the Kremlin to get back at the Kurds’ YPG militia. While the official State Department policy backs NATO ally Turkey, the U.S. quietly backs the YPG for its role in defeating ISIS. Erdogan’s paranoia since the failed coup puts the blame squarely on the Kurds or, even more farfetched, supporters of Gulen. Getting bloodied in Afrin losing eight soldiers, Erdogan faces more losses from the battle-tested YPG after defeating ISIS. Joining the Russians in Syria shows that Erdogan is no NATO ally or friend of the U.S.
Erdogan plays a dangerous game exploiting Putin to retaliate against the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. Erdogan backed the seven-year-old Saudi proxy war against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, pitting Turkey against the Kremlin. Yet when it comes to the YPG, Putin cleverly wants to assert control over the U.S., no matter what Turkey’s politics. Trump learned a valuable lesion about Turkey under Erdogan: He’s no friend of the U.S. “The solution to the violence is a return to the Geneva process as soon as possible,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert. Nauert knows that Geneva, led by U.N. Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura is completely dead. Controlled by Saudi Arabia that wants al-Assad out, Geneva is no longer viable. Erdogan’s war against the YPG in Syria is a losing proposition, only promising more lost blood-and-treasure.