Monday, August 29, 2016

Turkey, Europe and the war in Syria

Marc Pierini analyzes the current state of relations between the EU and Turkey in The Ankara-Brussels Problem Carnegie Europe 08/25/2016. He summarizes the currently pressing issues this way:

Between Turkey and the EU, priority issues for discussion include, as a start: Syria, counterterrorism cooperation, the implementation of the refugee assistance program in Turkey, the modernization of the customs union, and ongoing civil society cooperation (including educational and cultural programs such as the Jean Monnet Scholarships.)
He also makes this observation about the recent failed coup in Turkey:

The attempted coup was a vicious attack by Turks against Turks. It resulted in a massive destabilization of the country, its armed forces, its state institutions in general, and its international prestige. This was a self-engineered disaster and, in its aftermath, the EU and the West immediately showed their solidarity with Turkey.

Right now, Turkey is telling the world that the Gülen movement is behind the coup. This is plausible. It is important that solid evidence and a thorough enquiry show whether this was in fact the case. For the time being, Western diplomacies may recall that not too long ago, and until December 2013, AKP [the ruling party] ministers and Gülenist organizations were working hand-in-hand toward the same religious-conservative societal project. Gülenist organizations were always treated with great caution by the West because the movement was secret and its governance, membership, and financing unknown. However, Western diplomats occasionally came across Gülenists at the behest of AKP ministers, who promoted some Gülen members as the privileged interlocutors of visiting foreign dignitaries. In other words, let’s not forget that the AKP’s arch-enemy today was its closest ally yesterday.
I'll note in passing that Pierini uses "political populism" as though it should be taken as pejorative on the face of it, a common usage in the EU political vocabulary.

It's notable that Pierini lists Syria as the first item on his priority list. Turkey has recently undertaken a cross-border incursion into Syria. Nominally, the incursion is aimed at the Islamic State. But it's widely assumed that Syrian Kurdish forces are Turkey's main concern. Aljazeera reports (Erdogan: 'Syria operations will continue until the end' 08/29/2016):

On Sunday, Turkey intensified its "Euphrates Shield" military offensive in northern Syria, with Turkish warplanes and artillery pounding areas held by pro-Kurdish forces close to Jarablus, the town taken from ISIL by Ankara-backed Syrian rebels earlier this week.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 40 civilians were killed in separate Turkish strikes near the village of al-Amarneh and in Jeb al-Kussa, outside Jarablus - the first reports of significant civilian casualties since the start of Turkey's operation on Wednesday.

Birce Bora reports on the Kurdish angle (Kurds and refugees behind Turkey's Syria offensive Aljazeera 08/28/2016):

Turkey's military intervention in Syria is more about controlling Kurdish progress than combating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), Turkish analysts say.

"The Jarablus operation may be against ISIL, but its main aim is to make sure the border zone is controlled by Turkey-friendly rebels and not Kurdish forces," says Faik Demir, an expert on Turkish politics and foreign policy at Istanbul's Galatasaray University.

On Wednesday, Syrian rebels under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), backed by Turkish tanks and Special Forces, launched a military offensive titled "Operation Euphrates Shield" in northern Syria. It saw them recapture the strategic border town of Jarablus from ISIL fighters in a matter of hours.

Turkish analysts say while the operation was unprecedented - given that it is the first time a key regional power puts boots on the ground in Syria since the Syrian crisis broke out in 2011 - it was not surprising.
Robert Olson (Jarabulus: Another Escalation in the War between Turkey and the Kurds LobeLog Foreign Policy 08/29/2016) adds on the Jarabulus operation:

On August 24, Turkey launched Operation Euphrates Shield, an attack on the Islamic State (IS) stronghold of Jarabulus, a small town located on the Turkish-Syrian. While Turkey has had troops on the Syrian side of the border for some time, the attack on Jarabulus and on some of its surrounding territory marks an important escalation in Ankara’s participation in the U.S.-led war against IS, which Turkey first joined in July 2015 after agreeing to allow the U.S. to use Incirlik air base to strike IS targets in Syria and Iraq. This agreement also allowed Turkey to heighten its war against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The escalation in Jarabulus targets the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is closely affiliated with the PKK.

Turkey’s mission in Jarabulus, in support of anti-Assad rebel forces, will likely be open-ended, much like the ongoing deployment of Turkish forces in Bashiqa in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)-controlled part of Iraq. Turkey will now likely move to establish an IS-free zone, some 70 miles long and 30 miles deep, on the Syrian side of the border. Such a project has been bruited about for some years, and has been supported by U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. This zone would be used to aid in the liberation of Aleppo, much like the Turkish forces in Bashiqa would aid in the liberation of Mosul. [my emphasis]
Who knows what American foreign policy priorities will be next January? But Hillary has repeatedly stessed that she wants an expanded American participation in the Syrian civil war. And the main US allies right now are Kurdish forces that our NATO ally Turkey has been attacking.

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