Will Turkey’s latest adventure in northern Syria finally be the straw that ignites a third World War in the Middle East?
Turkey announced this past Tuesday that its forces killed at least 260 U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters after four days of an offensive dubbed “Operation Olive Branch” aimed at the Afrin region of northern Syria along the Turkish border.
But it’s important first to explain that the U.S. and Turkey do not share objectives in Syria. Turkey wants to wipe out the Kurds, who Erdogan believes will only inspire more unrest in Turkey’s own Kurdish population across the border, and specifically the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK terrorist organization.
The United States is backing the Syrian Kurds, who it does not perceive to be terrorists and who successfully engaged the Islamic State terror organization and driven its fighters from northern Syria with support from the U.S.
Turkey has ordered the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds to withdraw to a point east of the Euphrates River, and has said that it will provide its own “protection” for the Syrian city of Manbij via the Free Syrian Army, which Turkey supports.
According to the U.S.-based National Public Radio network (NPR), President Donald Trump and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke on Wednesday about the offensive.
Qatar-owned Aljazeera, however, reports that the two leaders spoke over the phone on Tuesday “to rid the area of Kurdish fighters.”
In any case, by Thursday the situation had already escalated, with Turkey warning that anyone who supported the YPG forces (Syrian Kurds) would become a “target” – a direct threat to the United States, since U.S. military forces work alongside the YPG fighters on the ground.
Turkey was threatening to attack Manbij as part of an operation against Afrin, according to Aljazeera.
At present, there are some 2,000 U.S. troops in the city, which is located about 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of Afrin.
In response, U.S. Colonel Ryan Dillon warned, “The coalition forces that are in that area have an inherent right to defend themselves and will do so if necessary.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has allegedly defended Turkey’s military actions thus far, but has also urged caution. “Turkey is one of the NATO nations that suffer the most from terrorism,” he said Thursday in a statement. “All nations have the right to defend themselves but this has to be done in a proportionate and measured way.”
According to the White House, in his conversation with Erdogan Trump “relayed concerns that escalating violence in Afrin risks undercutting our shared goals in Syria.” The president “urged Turkey to de-escalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties and increases to displaced persons and refugees,” NPR reported. He urged Turkey to “exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces”… President Trump also expressed “concern about destructive and false rhetoric coming from Turkey, and about United States citizens and local employees detained under the prolonged State of Emergency in Turkey.”
However, Aljazeera reports that the discussion between the two leaders was limited to “an exchange of views.” Moreover, the Turkish official quoted in the report denied there was any mention of the state of emergency, or the “destructive and false rhetoric coming from Turkey.
Russia also still remains in Syria, as does Iran, with both nations growing closer to Turkey as well and neither interfering in the rising tensions with the United States.
In fact, according to a report presented Thursday to the United Nations Security Council by Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, Iran currently directly commands 82,000 troops in Syria, and is intent on transforming the country into “the largest military base in the world.”
If the axis formed between Russia, Iran, Turkey and Syria holds firm, will NATO be able to justify Ankara continuing membership in its organization?
And the bigger question: will the growing proxy war developing in Syria eventually burst the dam and finally ignite World War III?