Shooting down a Turkish helicopter killing two soldiers near Afrin today, the Kurd’s YPG militia ratcheted up tensions with Ankara, signaling they have no intent of obeying Turkey’s 63-year-old President Recept Tayyip Erdogan to leave the region. Turkey lost 8 soldiers Feb. 4 when a YPG a shoulder-fired missile struck a Turkey tank, prompting Erdogan to warn of retaliation. “One of our helicopters was down just recently,” Edogan admitted to his AK Party [AKP] in Isranbul. Since launching Operation “Olive Branch” Jan. 20, Turkey has relentlessly bombed YPG positions close to the Turkish border, citing a threat to Turkish national security. Erdogan considers the YPG an offshoot of the pariah Kurdistan Workers Party [PKK], labeled a terror group for its at times violent separatist movement, seeking a homeland in Southern Turkey for the largely displaced Kurdish population.
Kurds were left out in the cold June 21, 1920 when the League of Nations signed the Treaty of Versailles, partitioning the remains to the Ottoman Empire in the wake of WW I. Turkey, while a NATO ally, has a long history of backing German Fascism, fighting for Weimer Republic in WW I then Nazi Germany in WW II. Now Turkey joins the wrong side of the fight again, battling the largely peaceful U.S.-backed Kurds who just finished their fight against ISIS in Mosul Iraq and Raqqa, Syria in 2017. Erdogan, who backed the Saudi proxy war to topple Syrian President al-Assad for nearly seven years. After the coup failed July 16, 2016, Erdogan blamed the U.S. for not extraditing 76-year-old exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, living in Pannsylvania’s Pocono Mountains. Erdogan jumped ship to an alliance with Moscow, opposing U.S.-backed Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces
Downing a Turkish helicopter Feb. 10 sends Erodgan a loud message not to mess with Kurd’s YPG militia. Flush with U.S. cash and armed to the teeth, the YPG shows no signs of backing down from Turkey’s three-week-old onslaught. Claim to have killed 26 YPG fighters near Afrin, the Turkish military showed it had no plans of getting out Syria. Going after the Kurdish YPG militia, Erdgan made a political blunder, thinking the Kurds would simply roll over, now starting a U.S. proxy war. Joining Russia in Turkey to gain strategic advantage against the U.S., Turkey finds itself in no man’s land, neither helped by Russia or the U.S. Russian’s only concern about the YPG is its past attempts to topple al-Assad. With 71-year-old Donald Trump in power, U.S. no longer seeks regime change in Damascus. Putin wants to protect Rusian interests, not join Turkey’s battle with the U.S.
Constructing a fifth military outpost near Idlib, Syria, Erdogan shows no intent to standing down against the YPG. U.S. officials have shown no change in policy supplying the YPG with cash-and-arms, now battling Turkey for supremacy in the region. With the Kurds failing to get autonomy in Iraq, the Syrian Kurds, especially YPG, have redoubled efforts to hold their ground. U.S. officials want to lend the Kurds as much support as needed, acknowledging their role in defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syris [ISIS]. Turkey wants to coordinate with Moscow and Tehran, busy defending the al-Assad regime in Damascus. Turkey’s decision to join Moscow’s alliance in Syria presents problems for the U.S. going forward. Going after the YPG has cost Turkey dearly in Southeastern Turkey, knowing that continuing the conflict with the Kurds pits Turkey against the U.S.
Syrian, Russian and Iranian troops want to prevent Saudi-U.S. rebel groups in Idlib from graining a stronghold from which to attack al-Assad’s Damascus regime. Turkey’s obsession with the Kurds is dragging Syria, Russia and Iran into a conflict with the U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG militia. YPG’s Peshmerga fighters want nothing from Turkey, responding only to Erdogan’s three-week long attack. Downing the helicopter puts the U.S. and Russia into Erdogan’s senseless battle with the Kurds, something giving him political cover but drawing the world closer to WW III. U.S. Special Syrian Envoy Brett McGurk needs to figure out how to avoid military confrontation with Ankara without abandoning the Kurds for the second time. Letting 71-year-old Kurdish Democratic Party leader Massoud Barzani resign in disgrace Oct. 29, 2017 was a low point for U.S.-Kurdish relations.
Escalating the conflict with the YPG in Southern Turkey, Erdogan panders to hardliners unable to get any satisfaction with U.S. officials extraditing Gulen. Going after the Kurdish YPG militia gives Erdogan domestic cover but drags Turkey into Iraq and Syria’s quagmire. Al-Assad finds himself battling too many insurgent groups to get embroiled in a useless fight against the U.S.-backed YPG militia. Instead of letting Erdogan draw the U.S. and Russia into a conflict in Syria, both countries should get on the same page. When Putin meets with Erdogan on Syria, he should tell him that the YPG does not represent a threat to Turkey. Putin should also put Erdogan on notice that battling the YPG in Syria pits the U.S. against Russia. Putin knows that after the debacle in Iraq, the U.S. can no longer turn a blind eye on the Kurds, especially with Turkey’s three-week-old assault.