- Turkish forces will stay in Syria until “normal life” is restored in the respective regions.
- Turkey’s notion of establishing safe zones for civilians in Syria has been backed by US Secretary of State, according to the Turkish Foreign Minister.
- Turkey continues to quarrel with the US over American support for Syrian Kurdish militia YPG which is said to be connected with the PPK, the group fighting to overthrow Turkish authority in Turkey’s Kurdish populated regions.
- US is backing the Syrian Kurds out of concerns that they might fall under Russia’s control, Turkey’s top diplomat deems.
Turkey is not going to withdraw its forces from war-torn neighbor Syria any time soon even though it recently said it had completed “successfully” a major military operation there, according to the Turkish Foreign Minister.
What is more, Turkey has continued to quarrel with the United States over the latter’s support for the Syrian Kurds’ militia deemed a terrorist group by Ankara.
Earlier this week, Turkey’s National Security Council announced the conclusion of Operation “Euphrates Shield”, a seven-month military intervention in the ongoing Syrian Civil War.
Turkey’s military went into Northern Syria to beat back ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) and especially to prevent the Kurdish militia YPG from linking two pockets of territory it controls south of the Turkish border. Operation Euphrates Shield began on August 24, 2016, in cooperation with the Free Syrian Army, the Turkish-backed Syrian rebel groups.
Turkey views the YPG (“People’s Protection Units”) as the Syrian offshoot of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), a group blacklisted as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU and the US for using violence to fight for the independence of the Kurds living in Southeast Turkey.
The Syrian Kurdish militia YPG makes the bulk of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which opposes the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but fights mostly against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It has established cooperation with Russia as well.
Turkey has also been building a wall along its border with Syria.
When ‘Life Returns to Normal’
Even though Turkey has “successfully accomplished” its months-old military operation into northern Syria, Turkish troops will not be withdrawn soon from the Syrian regions that it controls, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said, as cited by Hurriyet Daily News.
In his words, the condition for Turkey’s withdrawal from Syria would be to see “life return to normal” in the areas presently under Turkish control.
“Residential areas need to be established there. The US says the same thing. Second, local forces that will be deployed to provide protection here need to be trained and equipped. We will evaluate reducing the number of troops or withdrawing entirely only after local forces are fully able to control this area,” Cavusoglu told Ankara bureau chiefs aboard a flight to Brussels.
Cavusoglu also revealed that during US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Turkey on March 30, the two of them discussed the establishment of what Tillerson called “interim stabilization zones” inside Syria.
Those are supposed to allow Syrian refugees to return their country. Turkey and the US are considering working together for this goal and encouraging European countries to join in.
Fighting with the US over YPG
However, Cavusoglu said the Turkish government told Tillerson that regions under the control of the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG could not be considered “safe zones.”
“He asked us why and I explained to him. We are hosting around 300,000 Syrian Kurds who came to us from YPG-controlled regions. The majority of them were forced to leave their homes by the YPG as they do not have the same ideology as this group. [The displaced] don’t accept YPG oppression,” he said, citing examples from Tel Abyad and Afrin.
It is noted that Turkey considers both the Syrian Kurds’ Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the YPG, “terrorist” groups linked to the outlawed PKK.
Cavusoglu also said he presented to Tillerson the results from Turkey’s recently finished Euphrates Shield Operation as an example for the performance of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in seizing many cities in northern Syria.
Turkey has been trying to convince the United States to throw its weight behind the Turkish-friendly FSA in the Syrian Civil War but America has been supporting the Syrian Kurdish YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces instead.
“We told them, ‘We can engage in this operation and we can be successful with you and with special forces from other coalition partners. We can do it with the FSA altogether,’” the Turkish Foreign Minister said regarding the Turkish leadership’s talks with the US Secretary of State.
Cavusoglu reiterated Ankara’s concerns that the YPG’s plans were to expand its area of influence by changing the demography of Arab-majority towns to the advantage of the Syrian Kurds.
“If we all want the integrity of Syria… [The YPG] goal is certain; they will try to establish a cantonal state. If they enter Raqqa, they won’t leave,” Cavusoglu said, adding that he told Tillerson,
“Your support for a group attacking your ally will sadden us and this will affect our ties.”
The Turkish Foreign Minister also said his US counterpart had denied allegations about American deliveries of heavy weapons to the YPG
Cavusoglu, however, retorted that Turkey had evidence and urged his counterpart “not to run after short-term gains and engage with a terror group.”
Targeting the PKK Together
The Turkish Foreign Minister reminded that the US had pledged to work with Turkey for the elimination of the PKK, the blacklisted network of the Kurds in Turkey, particularly in the Sinjar region of Iraq and elsewhere in the region.
“We will absolutely resort to a military option in Sinjar as long as [the PKK] stays there,” he said.
“[Sinjar] is no different from Kandil [a mountain in northern Iraq where PKK has its main headquarters] for us. Today the U.S. said the same thing to us, ‘We have all sorts of plans for the withdrawal and elimination of the PKK everywhere, including Sinjar. We will act together with you.’ [Tillerson] told this to our prime minister and president as well.”
It is noted that Turkey sees the PKK’s efforts to expand its area of influence in Sinjar on the Syrian border as a serious threat to its security as it will establish a strong bridge with its affiliates in Syria, the PYD and the YPG.
Tillerson was the highest-level American official from the Trump administration to visit Turkey where he held talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, as well as Cavusoglu.
Although Tillerson declared America’s support for Turkey in the first against the PKK, he avoided Turkey’s insistent calls to cease the Pentagon’s support to the YPG as its main ally in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
According to Turkey’s Foreign Minister, US officials have justified America’s backing of the YPG on the grounds that otherwise more US troops would have to be sent to Syria.
However, Cavusoglu thinks the US cooperation with the Syrian Kurdish militia is designed to prevent it from allying with Russia.
“Their option to work with the YPG is still on the table. My understanding is that they are concerned that the YPG would fall under Russian control if they cease to cooperate with them,” the Turkish top diplomat concluded.