Turkey awaits Bidens verdict on anti-terror campaign
Turkey has toughened its rhetoric and is likely to step up its counterterrorism operations in neighboring Iraq and Syria following recent developments that have threatened its national security. In recent weeks, the murder of 13 Turkish nationals, including soldiers, police and civilians, detained for years by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in a cave in Gara, northern Iraq, has caused national outrage.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking to his ruling party on Monday, severely condemned the United States and accused it of clearly supporting Kurdish forces, which Turkey considers terrorists. I openly say once again to the world: after the massacre in Gara, no country, no organization, no group or no one can further question, criticize or oppose Turkey’s operations in Iraq and Syria, Erdogan swore, adding that such anti-terrorist operations would continue in the coming weeks.
As the President said, the scope of Ankaras’ fight against PKK terrorism will be much wider and harsher after the Gara incident. This campaign will not only have implications for Turkey’s domestic politics, but it is also likely to take a crucial place in the country’s policies towards Syria and Iraq, as well as in its relations with other actors, such than Russia and the United States. While Turkey has a long history of operations in northern Iraq, where the PKK has its main headquarters and facilities, the situation in northeastern Syria is worrying. Due to the intensification of the Turkish campaign, the PKK had to move some of its bases to the south of northern Iraq and to the Sinjar district on the Syrian border.
In recent weeks, attacks by the Syrian wing of the PKK, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), against civilian settlements in northern Syria have increased, further threatening the country’s path to peace and stability. . Separate assaults on Azaz, Al-Bab and Afrin show that the YPG concentrated their attacks on districts in northern Syria that are under Turkish management. The attacks coincided with the assumption of the new American administration of Joe Biden in Washington. While the White House Biden, whose Syrian policy remains unclear, has not yet communicated its policy towards the YPG, the latter seems to have revised his position. Moreover, the coincidence of these attacks coinciding with the taking office of the new administration has raised eyebrows in Ankara, whose concerns about US support for the YPG are not without merit.
Erdogan signaled that 2021 would be a foreign policy year for Turkey, as he called on Washington to open a new page in their relationship this year. Ankara’s highest contact with the new US administration to date has been a phone call between Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. However, Kalin said Erdogan and Biden could have a phone conversation in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said last week that Turkey would raise the issue of US support for the YPG as a priority with the Biden administration.
Although the two sides are committed to improving bilateral relations, it remains to be seen what policy Biden will adopt to help his NATO ally in his campaign against terrorism. Biden harshly criticized former President Donald Trumps’ decision in 2019 to withdraw US troops from northern Syria, seeing it as a betrayal of the YPG. Moreover, Bidens ‘decision to bring back Brett McGurk, the architect of the Americas’ cooperation with the YPG, indicates a policy that may increase tensions between Ankara and Washington. McGurk has openly criticized Turkish policy on Syria and is likely to play an important role in shaping Turkish-American relations.
Turkey’s first military involvement in northwestern Syria was an operation with the US military against Daesh. Then, in Afrin in 2018 and again in 2019, after Trump’s withdrawal of US forces, Turkey carried out two more operations to wipe out elements of the YPG / PKK in northern Syria. Russian forces also established themselves in some military bases after the withdrawal of American troops. Since then, Moscow has stepped up its presence in the YPG / PKK occupied areas east of the Euphrates, increasing the number of military bases and outposts.
Last October, Ankara and Moscow reached an agreement under which YPG / PKK terrorists would withdraw 30 km south of Turkey’s border with Syria and Turkish-Russian security forces would carry out joint patrols there. Russia has also started to create a military unit made up of local elements in Syria’s northeastern province of Hasakah, a move that has sparked tensions between Assad regime forces and the YPG / PKK.
Turkey will raise the issue of US support for the YPG as a priority with the Biden administration.
Is Russia a much more reliable partner than the United States in Turkey in the fight against the PKK in Syria and Iraq? This is doubtful. However, Turkey has been involved in delicate cooperation with Russia through the Astana / Sochi process, which allows these actors to limit and expand their positions in Syria and act in accordance with their interests. Turkish-American relations lack such a mechanism in Syria. Moreover, as the United States pushes Turkey towards binary choices, Moscow, despite its differences with Ankara over the Syrian regime, is doing the opposite and leaving room for Ankara. If Turkey fails to find the United States on its side in its counterterrorism campaign in the weeks to come, it is likely that Russia will be eager to play that role instead.
- Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst specializing in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. Twitter: @SinemCngz
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the editors in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Arab News
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