It’s rather amazing how much news you can miss when the entire media machine is focused on something like the government shutdown. For just one minor example, did you know that Turkey invaded Syria yesterday? That probably sounds a bit dramatic (and to be honest, it wasn’t that much of an invasion) but it’s certainly accurate. Making good on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s earlier promise, Turkey launched a blistering wave of air strikes on U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Afrin province and crossed the border with troops and artillery. Details are sketchy, but at least for the moment the Kurds claim to have beaten back the attack. (Reuters)
Turkish ground forces pushed into northern Syria’s Afrin province on Sunday, the army said, after Turkey launched artillery and air strikes on a U.S.-backed Kurdish militia it aims to sweep from its border.
The Syrian-Kurdish YPG militia, supported by the United States but seen as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, said it had repulsed the Turkish forces and their allies after fierce clashes.
It marked the second day of fighting after Ankara opened a new front in the nearly seven-year-old Syrian war. Under what the Turkish government has called “Operation Olive Branch”, Turkish air strikes on Saturday pounded YPG positions in Afrin.
Turkey’s Prime Minister, Binali Yildirim, confirmed to local media that “ground operations have started.” This would seem to indicate that the story is true and the Turks plan to carry on with this operation. The stated goal is to clear out a roughly twenty mile kill zone along the border to prevent any YPG incursions into Turkish territory. And it wasn’t a subtle operation, either. The New York Times reported that as many as six dozen Turkish fighters and bombers were flying missions over the border. How far their troops penetrated into Syrian territory is unclear.
Normally, when you see a situation where the military of one nation is crossing the border into another country that would be considered an invasion. But you probably shouldn’t expect to see much in the way of protests from Bashar al-Assad. Since the fall of ISIS, the area around Damascus has become at least somewhat more stable, with the Syrian president receiving the backing of not only Turkey but Russia as well. But al-Assad still has little to no control over his northeastern provinces. If Turkey manages to wipe out or significantly damage the YPG, the Syrian government will likely see it as a favor.
So what about the U.S. forces currently in Afrin province and the surrounding regions? While this is a fluid situation and much of the work being done is classified, the Washington Post reported last month that we actually have roughly 2,000 “advisory” troops on the ground there. That’s more than four times as many as had been previously reported. Turkey is still supposed to be one of our allies, at least in theory. And now they have a full-blown military offensive blasting away at the forces we are supporting. What if some American troops are killed in the conflict? If that happens, it can no longer be blamed on Syria. This is strictly a Turkish operation.
It’s bad enough that Turkey is holding up to a dozen Americans in prison right now, being used essentially as hostages for the extradition of Cleric Fethullah Gulen. If we begin losing our troops in a military conflict with Erdogan, our diplomatic relationship with a once promising ally is pretty much toast. The situation with Turkey should have been handled years ago and now it may be too late.