On Wednesday, October 9, Turkish military troops proceeded to an incursion in neighboring northern Syria, after President Trump announced the withdrawal of US troops from the area.
As of Sunday, October 13, Erdogan said Turkish forces had advanced in about 35 kilometers south along the border which Turkey shares with northern Syria. Several provinces and cities in the region, such as Ras al-Ayn, Kobani, Ayn Issa and Qamishli, underwent heavy offensives and over a hundred airstrikes in just about a week.
Some of these areas are predominantly Kurdish-inhabited, as the Kurdish demography stretches as far as some parts of Iraq, Iran and even Turkey.
Turkey’s offensive aims at uprooting the Kurdish-majority Syrian Democratic Forces, deemed by Erdogan a terrorist group because of its ties with the radical PKK (the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers Party, which has long fought against Erdogan in Turkey).
The Syrian Democratic Forces, having previously worked in tandem with the United States in fighting ISIS, felt forsaken after Trump announced the withdrawal of US troops on Sunday, October 7, shortly following a phone call with President Erdogan.
“We want to bring our troops back home from these endless wars,” Trump declared. “We’re like a police force over there. We’re not fighting, we’re policing,” he went on.
Turkey and the United States previously had an agreement to both patrol the northern region of Syria. But after the defeat of ISIS, the United States deemed no longer necessary to linger, and the withdrawal of its troops was largely perceived as giving Turkey the “green light” to further intervene.
Locals in the areas undergoing Turkish assaults say chaos broke loose, after a short respite following the defeat of ISIS. According to the United Nations, the fighting in Ras al-Ayn and other northeastern areas in Syria forced at least 160,000 people out of their homes. The Kurdish Authorities set the number to 270,000.
On Wednesday, October 9 (the selfsame day Erdogan launched the incursion), Turkey said it had already carried out airstrikes on 181 targets. Numerous airstrikes were reported to have hit non-combative areas, killing civilians and journalists. Some even targeted jails where ISIS fighters were detained.
By Sunday, October 13, Kurdish authorities said over 800 ISIS fighters escaped custody, and so far ISIS claimed two bomb attacks in Qamishli and in a military base near Hasaka, both predominantly Kurdish.
In response to criticism, Erdogan threatened the European Union of “opening the gates” for the refugees in Turkey to enter Europe, “if the EU labels the military operation as an incursion,” as Turkey hosts some 3.6 million Syrian refugees.
Turkey appears relentless in pushing its military campaign against the Kurds, after the withdrawal of the United States swept its way clear. Erdogan deems it legitimate to the extent that the semi-autonomous Kurdish region can easily bear upon southern Turkey, but also as Turkey’s interference and influence in Syria and its conflicts is not novel.
“You are leaving us to be slaughtered,” the Syrian Democratic Forces leader, Mazloum Kobani Abdi, told William Roebuck, the Deputy Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, according to CNN.
“I need to know if you are capable of protecting my people, of stopping these bombs falling on us, or not,” a document of the meeting between the two officials showed. “I need to know because if you’re not, I need to make a deal with Russia and regime now and invite their places to protect this region,” he added.
But the Syrian Democratic Forces did not wait long before resorting to the Syrian regime and Russia for help in the following day. On Sunday, October 13, Kurdish authorities announced that they reached an agreement with Damascus and that the Syrian army was “called upon to help liberate areas occupied by the Turkish army and its Syrian proxies.”
On that same day, Syrian state-owned media outlets reported the dispatching of two military units to the north as to face the advance of Turkey. Some Kurdish-ran areas in the north were semi-autonomous since 2012, but the Kurd’s turning to Syria for help is likely to bring an end to their hopes of autonomy.
What the Kurds were hoping for by turning to Bashar al-Assad was to strike a deal to help impose a no-fly zone in northeast Syria by allowing Russian warplanes in, and thereby denying Turkey the ability to carry out airstrikes, which it mostly rely on in its campaign.
Tuesday, October 15, Russia finally made public its intentions as regards the conflict. Moscow announced that its troops started patrolling in Manbij, near the Turkish borders, where once the United States held two bases.
For its part, the Syrian regime seems all the more relentless in regaining once-Kurdish territory, where it relies on Russia for so doing, and where Turkish presence seems substantial as well.
In the meantime, the Kurds are caught in a conundrum and appear to be choosing giving up their autonomy hopes for protection under new allies compelled by necessity.