Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rhetoric is at times, oddly honest, sometimes blatantly so. At other times, when he attempts to be more analytical, it is as deceptive as his political and geo-political manoeuvring.
Last year, Erdogan gave an speech in which he declared his unambiguous intentions to capture former territories of the Ottoman Empire, specifically parts of the legal territory of Syria and Iraq.
Now, he has said that his illegal invasion and occupation of Syria is not over; it are merely changing names.
Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield which saw Turkish forces and their jihadist proxies FSA occupy parts of Northern Syria was officially declared a success in a ‘mission accomplished’ style statement from Turkey’s National Security Council.
The ‘end’ of Euphrates Shield came 24 hours prior to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Ankara where a meeting with his Turkish counterpart was filled with diplomatic language but manifest disagreements, particularly over America’s pro-Kurdish strategy. It is of note that even as Turkey claimed its operations were over, no time-table for withdrawal was offered. Turkish forces may yet dig into Syria further. After all, they haven’t left.
If it seemed puzzling why Turkey would apparently quit Syria after investing time, effort, troops and money into occupying the country, the mystery has been officially solved.
Erdogan intends to continue Turkey’s illegal operations in Syria but under a different name and possibly in a different region of Syria and most ridiculously, against unnamed terrorist targets.
Turkey has all ready fought almost every faction in the conflict including the Syrian forces, Kurdish forces, ISIS forces and other scattered ISIS style forces. The only faction Turkey hasn’t fought are their own FSA proxy-forces, who themselves are ISIS style Salifists.
Much of Turkey’s manoeuvring in a would-be ‘Euphrates Shield 2.0’, is dependant on how America’s relationship with Kurdish dominated SDF forces pans-out. At the moment, America and Turkey are at operational loggerheads in respect of Kurds.
Under Donald Trump, America has shifted from Obama’s pro-Salifist policy to a virtually exclusive pro-Kurdish (YPG/SDF) policy. Indeed, Trump has sent additional US forces to the region, but as of yet, they have not seen meaningful combat action. Some have suspected that America may be sympathetic to the cause of Kurdish nationalism, something which Turkey vehemently opposes as do Iran, Iraq and Syria.
Russia, like America, has Kurdish sympathies, in addition to being a steadfast ally of the Syrian Arab Republic.
Therefore, Turkey is finding itself increasingly isolated in the conflict both from his technical NATO ally, the United States and its proximate ‘partner’, Russia.
There is little doubt that Turkey’s main target in Syria is at this time, Kurdish forces. But with both the US and Russia supporting the SDF, Turkey’s hands may be increasingly tied.
Making things more awkward, Turkey and Syria find themselves on the same page in one area; opposition to any Kurdish state. That being said, the idea of Turkey working with Syria in any instance, is unfathomable, not least because Syria does not oppose Kurdish efforts to fight Salifst terrorists. In many cases there have even been instances of strategic cooperation.
I have little doubt that when Erdogan promises further militant aggression against Syria, that he means it. The question remains, how much more can he get away with in his increasingly isolated position?