Syria has once again become the centre of global attention with Turkey’s ongoing military invasion into North-east Syria. This follows the unexpected announcement by the US President Donald Trump that US troops would pull back from Syria, leaving the Kurd fighters in Syria who have been instrumental in dismantling the ISIS “Caliphate” to fend for themselves. This has given Turkey the opportunity that it had been waiting for.
The Syrian Civil war had created millions of refugees. According to UN estimates, around 13.5 million Syrian refugees required humanitarian assistance as of 2016. Of these, around 6 million were internally displaced, while 5 million were cross border refugees who sought asylum in other countries. An overwhelming majority of these refugees, 3.6 million to be precise reside in Turkey.
What Turkey is now looking up to is invading North-east Syria and resettle these refugees.
During the UNGA session, Turkish President Erdogan had proposed an expanded “safe zone” in northern Syria where as many as 3 million refugees could settle down and stretch for 50 miles as far as Raqqa.
He proposed an initial depth of 30 km. It must also be noted that Turkey is fighting Kurdish insurgency led by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) within its own territory and sees an autonomous Kurdish government and its militias People’s Protection Units (YPG) across the border in Syria as a security threat for itself.
In fact, the Turkish government maintains that the YPG and the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) as extensions of the PKK and looks down upon them as terror organisations.
What the Turkish incursion does is make the situation volatile in Syria all over again. The Kurds have been at the forefront of the fight against IS. In fact, the fall of the Islamic State had begun with a setback in Kobane, the Kurdish town which was liberated by the YPG in early 2015.
The Kurds who don’t have a State of their own and are spread across the Mesopotamian plains and the highlands in what is now south-eastern Turkey, north-eastern Syria, northern Iraq, north-western Iran and south-western Armenia, were instrumental in bringing down the IS “Caliphate”.
The semi-autonomous Kurdish government came into being in Syria after the Kurd fighters captured all major cities in the region, liberating them from the IS. The most important of the cities being Raqqah, the de facto capital of the IS. It is for this reason that the Kurdish forces have emerged as the closest allies of the US in the fight against IS.
While it is true that IS “Caliphate” has been destroyed, the fact remains that the IS has not been totally annihilated. The sudden drawback of the US forces and the Turkish invasion against the Kurdish fighters seriously makes Syria vulnerable to the rise of the IS once again.
Apart from the power vacuum in vast regions of Syria that would allow the IS to take control of the situation once again, there is a lurking danger of massive prison breaks.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) facilities in Syria currently hold around 12,000 prisoners. Most of these prisoners were captured during the days of the IS Caliphate. Kurds have now warned that they may not have the resources to prevent prison breakouts.
It is only natural in such circumstances that the Kurdish fighters have denounced Washington’s move of drawing back troops as a betrayal.
The Trump administration itself has given mixed signals. US President Trump has threatened to destroy the Turkish economy if Ankara took its military invasion too far. He reportedly said that he would “totally destroy and obliterate” the Turkish economy if Turkey took military action in Syria that he considered “off-limits”.
Turkey’s military action has created a fresh humanitarian crisis in Syria. With reports suggesting the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stating, “Since Wednesday, more than 60,000 people have fled the border areas. Therefore, Turkey’s act of invading North-east Syria and military action against the Kurdish fighters clearly leaves lakhs of Syrians at the risk of another round of displacement. A High Representative has meanwhile issued a statement on behalf of the European Union on the ongoing developments in North-east Syria. It has stated: The EU calls upon Turkey to cease the unilateral military action. Renewed armed hostilities in the north-east will further undermine the stability of the whole region, exacerbate civilian suffering and provoke further displacements.”
Even within the US, President Trump has been facing criticism over the dramatic developments and the drawback of US forces. Former US Envoy to the UN, Nikki Haley, for example, has tweeted, “We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back. The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake.”
Even Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina who is seen s a close ally of President Trump said that if press reports were accurate, “this is a disaster in making”. The move to leave the Kurds to fend for themselves has been largely seen as a disastrous move that has left the Kurds, a capable US ally.
We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back. The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake. #TurkeyIsNotOurFriend
— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) October 7, 2019
Turkey’s military action becomes much more worrisome because of the extremist credentials of the Turkish President Erdogan. His neo Caliphate ambitions are no longer a secret.
What is particularly objectionable is reports of Turkey’s intelligence agency providing resources and material assistance to the ISIS since 2012, under the Turkish President’s directions.
Recently, his UN speech had brought to fore Erdogan’s attempts to position himself as the “messiah” of the Muslim populations across the world. His atrocities against Kurds and bizarre stance of looking at the Kurd fighters in Syria as terrorists gives rise to the very real dangers of Syria becoming an IS dominated zone all over again.