Turkey Launches New Military Operation in Northern Syria Against Kurds 

Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan flexed his geopolitical muscles on June 1, 2022 when he announced a new “special operation” of the Turkish army to confront “terrorist elements” in northern Syria. According to a report by Tyler Durden at ZeroHedge, Turkish military forces are targeting areas in Tal Rifaat and Manbij areas. 

Turkey conducted a similar operation in 2019, which received significant international condemnation.

“We are taking another step in establishing a 30-kilometer security zone along our southern border. We will clean up Tal Rifaat and Mambij,” Erdogan revealed in an announcement. Erdogan indicated that this operation will extend to other parts of northern Syria.

This move comes against the backdrop of Turkey’s decision to block Finland’s and Sweden’s accession into NATO. Erdogan added: “Let’s see who will support us and who will stand against us.”

A report in the Daily Sabah showed that Erdogan has become increasingly frustrated with both the US and Russia when it comes to their perceived indifference towards the presence of armed Kurdish groups operating in northern Syria. 

With regards to the US, its presence of 900 troops in northeast Syria is actively supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces. The Syrian Kurdish YPG, a Kurdish militia, has a strong presence in the SDF. Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist organization by virtue of it being an alleged extension of the PKK — another organization the Turkish state deems as a terrorist organization. 

A principal part of Erdogan’s objection to Finland and Sweden joining NATO has to do with the country’s alleged role in giving sanctuary to Kurdish groups that are at loggerheads with the Turkish state. Unless these Nordic countries change their policies with regards to the PKK and its fellow travelers, Turkey vows to continue blocking the two countries’ membership applications until they meet its demands. 

In a similar vein, Turkey is still frustrated by Finland’s and Sweden’s decision to join the EU in its efforts to prohibit weapons exports to Turkey following its controversial 2019 military operation in northern Syria.  

On May 28, Erdogan gave a speech where he resoundingly expressed the Turkish state’s desire to crush Kurdish groups operating close to the Turkish-Syrian border. The Turkish president declared “Like I always say, we’ll come down on them suddenly one night. And we must.”

Erdogan has criticized the US’s backing of the YPG. “All coalition forces, leading with the U.S., have provided these terror groups a serious amount of weapons, vehicles, tools, ammunition and they continue to do so. The U.S. has given them thousands of trucks,” he remarked. Erdogan is in pure transactional mode. At this point in history, Turkey Is a part-time NATO employee who uses the alliance to advance its agenda while also undermining European nations through its weaponization of migration and its use of the Turkish diaspora to project influence in EU nations.

Turkey is a consummate geopolitical hedger that is willing to play off rival great powers against each other. Its commitments to alliance structures are dubious at best. It’s committed to advancing its national interests above all.

Ever since Western countries started siding more with Kurdish organizations in the Syrian Civil War, Turkey has grown more hostile to the West. As a result, Turkey has returned the favor by not sanctioning Russia over its invasion of Ukraine and closing off its straits to all warships. As Turkey grows more oriental in its geopolitical approach, it will likely continue butting heads with the West.

The fact that Turkey is in NATO just shows how out of place that alliance is in the 21st century — a time when geopolitical currents are moving in a completely different direction. 

All in all, reassessing the US’s relationship with Turkey is a good first step for US policymakers who desire to retrench from the country’s excessive commitments abroad. 

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