THE START of Turkey’s military operation in north-east Syria was announced by President Erdogan on Wednesday, three days after he received the go-ahead from President Trump on Sunday. Trump announced the withdrawal of US ground troops from the area, thus green-lighting the Turkish invasion that aims to create 32km deep ‘safety zone’ along a 483km of the border, supposedly to remove the threat of Kurdish attacks on Turkey.
Turkey considers the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which controls the area an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Announcing the offensive, which started with airstrikes and artillery bombardment, Erdogan said: “our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across the southern border and bring peace to the area.” He did not mention there was peace in the area since the SDF ground troops with the support of US air-strikes defeated Isis and were currently holding 90,000 people with links to the terror group.
The main responsibility for what is happening belongs to Trump as he could have kept the 1,000 US special forces in the area to carry on acting as a buffer between the SDF and Turkey. There is no obvious rational explanation for Trump’s decisions which has also turned many Republicans against him, quite rightly, accusing him of betraying the Kurdish-led forces that led the war against Isis. A bipartisan group in Congress said it was preparing tough sanctions against Turkey, a Democratic senator tweeting that “Turkey must pay a heavy price for attacking our Syrian-Kurdish partners.”
Leaving the Kurds, who had set up an autonomous region in the north-east of Syria, at the mercy of Turkey was a terrible move by Trump. Not only could it allow Isis to regroup and re-emerge, but it could also allow President Assad’s troops back into the region that could lead to a resumption of the widespread fighting. Aid groups, meanwhile have warned the US withdrawal could cause a humanitarian disaster as thousands would want to flee the new war zone.
As with most military operations, there can be no safe predictions. Erdogan’s narrative is that Turkey would push back the Kurdish-led forces and create the “safe zone” in which he would settle two million of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey. Most of these refugees are not from the area, but Turkey has claimed they would ‘volunteer’ to live there. Alternatively, he would send all 3.6 million to Europe he said on Thursday if European countries dared label his military campaign an occupation.
Nobody could safely predict how Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring will develop, but the fighting that will lead to death and suffering for thousands could have been avoided if President Trump acted in a more responsible and judicious way instead of opening the doors for Erdogan’s invasion.