After creating a buffer zone or safe haven in Syria along the Turkish border with Russian President Vladimir Putin Sept. 17, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan now says he wants safe zones in territory held by his archenemy the Kurds. Erdogan practically broke off diplomatic relations over U.S. support for the Kurds, it’s main fighting force in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS]. Erdogan can’t distinguish between the Kurdistan Workers Party [PKK], a long enemy of Turkey, from Kurdish Protection Units [YPG] militia, a group busy defending Kurdish rights in parts of Iraq and Syria. Erdogan sees anything Kurdish as the enemy of Ankara, blaming Kurds—among other groups—for the failed July 15, 2016 coup that caused Erdogan to declare martial law. Erdogan’s still purging what’s left of Turkey free press and non-profits from what he thinks are subversive elements.
Erdogan can’t decide whom to support or oppose in setting up a 12-mile-long buffer zone along the Turkish border near Idlib Province. Erdogan’s been a firm backer of the seven-year-old Saudi proxy war, begun at the height of the Arab Spring March 15, 2011, responsible for 360,000 Syrian deaths, with 12 million more displace to neighboring countries and Europe. Erdogan hosts 3.7 million Syrians, receiving 21 euro per person per month or 932,400,000 euros a year or $1,9 billion. “God willing, in the upcoming period, we will increase safe zones within Syria, also encompassing Eastern Euphrates,” said Erdogan. Erdogan thinks he’s won the Syria war now that he’s carved up Syria’s sovereign territory with Russian help. But Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has made no such agreement, nor does Putin back a permanent annexation of Syrian territory to house rebels and terrorists.
In making the deal with Erdogan for a temporary buffer zone, Putin had no intent to permanently annexing Syria territory, especially not for Saudi-Turkey-U.S. funded rebels seeking regime change in Damascus. Putin has promised al-Assad that the insurgency stops in the buffer zone, not serving as a springboard for rebel troops to make more inroads into Syrian territory or Damascus. Erdogan knows a lot about ISIS, whose son Bilal was running illicit ISIS oil into Turkey for at least three years. Like so many other problems in the region, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to ferret out Syrian rebels from terror groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. Erdogan promised to keep a terrorist free zone in Northern Syria West of the Euphrates River. He considers the Kurdish YPG militia a terror group, despite the fact they fought-and-died to eliminate ISIS in Syria and Iraq with U.S. backing.
Saudi Arabia and Turkey would like nothing more that to see al-Assad out of Damascus. Allowing Syria Democratic Forces, a group of Kurdish and Arab fighters, to stay in the new buffer zone won’t sit well with al-Assad or Putin. Putin agreed to the bugger zone with no promise from Turkey or indirectly Saudi Arabia: To end the seven-year-old proxy war against al-Assad, Erdogan ordered the arrest of 61 Turkish soldiers today, accusing them of loyalty of 77-year-old Pennsylvania-based exiled cleric Fethulah Gulen.. Erdogan still believes that Gulen directs a covert insurgency against his Ankara regime. There’s zero proof that Gulen, or anyone linked to his group, had anything to do with the failed July 15, 2016 coup. Erodgan’s decision to annex part of Syria as a buffer zone has breathed new life in Saudis seven-year-old proxy war seeking to topple al-Assad’s Shiite government.
U.S. still maintains a sizable continent of Special Forces deployed with the YPG in Northern Syria. Erdogan would like U.S.-backed Kurdish troops to disappear, despite knowing they have the full backing of the U.S. government. Without the YPG, Syria would have never driven ISIS from Raqqa, Syria and Mosul, Iraq, both key ISIS strongholds until the Kurdish YPG militia drove them out. Erdogan’s agreement with Putin doesn’t provide a permanent safe haven in Syria but rather a place to stop an all-out assault on Idlib province. Putin responded to Western concerns that some 3 million civilians could be caught in the crossfire from a Syrian, Russian and Iranian assault on rebel strongholds in Idlib Province. Erdogan’s given Saudi-U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces false hope that the Saudi-funded proxy war in Syria still has a chance of evicting al-Assad.
Anyone thinking that Erodgan’s plan to annex parts of Syria near the Turkish border as a permanent buffer zone doesn’t know al-Assad or Putin. Putin gave Erdogan a concession creating a temporary buffer zone in Syria for the purpose of stopping an almost certain bloodbath in Idlib Province. Erdogan likes to boast of Turkey’s military prowess in Syria but can’t stop an ongoing insurgency inside his own borders to topple his Ankara government. Still cracking down over two years after a failed coup speaks volumes about Erdogan’s paranoia about a Gulen-backed insurgency trying to kick him out of Ankara. Putin has no intent to of betraying al-Assad’s promise to rid Syria of all foreign rebel and terror groups. Erdogan got his buffer zone but didn’t get a permanent commitment from Putin to annex Syrian territory. Once Putin can get terrorists out of Syria, he can deliver on his promise to end the Saudi proxy war.