Turkey has always had a complex relationship with the rest of its NATO partners, ut during the current Erdogan period it has grown exceedingly problematic. With the weakening of US positions across he Middle East and Trump’s reliance on reliable indigenous allies to shoulder the ground burden against ISIS and Iran, Turkey sees its position falter.
The US has spent the past two years strengthening the Kurdish YPG dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Northern Syria by offering training, weapons, and logistics. The YPG/SDF are spread across five cantons that buttress Syria’s border with Turkey.
Turkey has always dealt poorly with the 20 million Kurds within their country, but has grown excessively weary about the Kurdish self-determination movements growing in Syria and Iraq. Both of these movements are being funded more or less by the US, France, and Germany; all of whom double as fellow NATO members to Turkey.
Erdogan has grown despondent about the US role in building a future Kurdistan.
“We are greatly disappointed by the United States not keeping its promises. Many issues that we could have resolved easily…were pushed to a dead-end,” Erdogan said this past week.
Erdogan’s opposition to the US backing of the YPG in Syria is now seen as a threat to the NATO alliance itself. This makes Turkey’s assault on Kurdish positions in Afrin ground zero to see how Trump views Turkey’s future roll in NATO. Afterall, the prevailing wisdom is that Turkey was behind much of the early growth of ISIS and used the chaos to push back on growing Kurdish autonomy. With the narrative flipped, Turkey sees Afrin as an important litmus test on how far America will actually go to defend their proxy in Northern Syria.
“We need to cleanse Afrin of the structure there called the YPG terrorist organization,” Erdogan said.
Comparing the YPG to the notorious PKK, a long time enemy dof Turkey, might play well inside Turkey, but it does nothing to heal the divide between Turkey and the West.
Syrian Kurds and Turkey Exchange Fire Over Afrin
Turkish and Kurdish forces exchanged fire across the Afrin-Idlib border on Monday, according to several reports. No casualties have been reported.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed there was an exchange of fire between the sides. The organization stated that the YPG targeted Dar Ta izzah town and Turkey retaliated by launching fire into YPG-controlled Afrin canton.
The Observatory has also been reporting a steady increase of Turkish armored vehicles and soldiers entering the Afrin and Idlib areas as a preparation for a final assault on the Kurdish positions in Afrin. If Afrin were to fall to Turkey it would be the second Kurdish stronghold to fall to either Iran or Turkey in the past one and half months.
With the SDF offering the most stable option for a post war Syria, the US may have to forego its faltering relationship with Islamist Turkey in order to shore up a far more dependable ally it has found with the Kurds. If this happens, it may spell th end of Turkey’s membership in NATO.