Turkish Incursion Along Border with Syria in Full Force Following U.S. Withdrawal

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region


The announcement and subsequent withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Syrian-Turkish border has caught many by surprise. It has sparked accusations of American betrayal, and even elicited some strong responses from the U.S. president’s allies in Congress. As expected, Turkish forces have moved in quickly to fill the void left by U.S. troops, threatening in the process to push back against Kurdish forces along the border. Despite Turkey’s reassurances that its intention is only to create a safe haven for Syrian refugees along the border, many of its neighbors, including Syria, have condemned the assault on the Kurdish held area. The Kurds, under pressure and once again betrayed by the United States, must now contemplate the possibility of either suffering defeat at the hands of Turkish forces or turning some of the area under their control over to the Syrian government.

The sense of betrayal felt by the Kurds and their supporters is highlighted by a recent editorial by Khaleej Times, which characterizes the withdrawal of U.S. troops as ‘an act of betrayal’, and accusing the US president, saying,  “In the end it’s about money… [and] counts no one as a friend. But with friends like the Trump administration who needs an enemy? The bonds of such fake friendship are loose. One ally is led to the edge of danger and is abandoned by the larger power – in this case the United States. The smaller partner is alone and in peril, like the Kurds must be feeling right now…. this has been a shady, shameful, and cowardly exit – leaving an ally to fend for itself when the going’s good in northeast Syria where the Kurds hold the upper hand. Cutting losses and running is done by even the strongest militaries. What the US is doing here is despicable. Slashing gains and making a run for it is the worst form of treachery.”

For their part, according to The National’s Khaled Yacoub Oweis, the Kurds in Syria find themselves between two unpalatable alternatives, and ultimately forced to choose what they see as the lesser evil of the two: “The YPG used nominal governance and violence to pacify the Arab population of the north-east. The group also crushed Kurdish dissidents and activists in the mixed, tribal region. In past attempts to head off Turkish incursions into Kurdish held areas, YPG forces handed desert areas to the Russian and Iranian-backed regime to create a buffer zone. The instinct of their commanders, and the Kurdish politicians they control, will be survival. Their only pathway to limit a Turkish assault may well be with the Syrian regime. Such a deal will cost them the pursuit of Kurdish national aspirations as the YPG defines them. The YPG is not negotiating from the position of strength it had intended when it captured so much land.”

The Syrian government has, in a statement published by the Syrian News Agency SANA, condemned the Turkish operation inside Syria’s sovereign territory, while warning that it would use all ‘legitimate means’ to persuade Turkey to take a different course of action: “Syria condemned in strongest terms the hostile intentions of the Turkish regime and the military build-up at the Syrian borders, affirming that they constitute an outrageous violation of the international law and renewing determination to confront the Turkish aggression by all legitimate means…. Syria condemns in strongest terms the reckless statements and hostile intentions of the Turkish regime and the military build-up at the Syrian borders which constitute an outrageous violation of the international law and a blatant breach of the International Security Council’s resolutions which affirm respecting Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Some of Turkey’s neighbors, including Egypt, Cyprus and Greece, have also expressed disapproval of the Turkey’s military actions in Syria. Writing for Egypt Independent, Al-Masry Al-Youm reports that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi expressed his government’s support for “the unity, sovereignty and independence of the Syrian state… during the tripartite summit on Tuesday with his Cypriot counterpart Nicos Anastasiades and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. The three countries support international efforts to propose a political solution to the conflict, Sisi affirmed…. The military operation declared by Turkey in Syrian territories is illegal and unjustified, said a joint statement issued by the tripartite summit. The statement stressed that Egypt, Cyprus and Greece condemn any Turkish attempt to undermine Syria’s territorial integrity or to make any deliberate demographic changes in Syria.”

The Turkish military incursion was also the subject of this Gulf News editorial, which accused the Turkish government of undermining the sovereignty of Syria: “Apparently, Ankara plans to kill two birds with one stone. One the one hand, it believes a military action will help clear the border of what it considers Kurdish terrorist elements; on the other, it also plans to move a million Syrian refugees into the so-called safe zone, thereby creating a Syrian Arab buffer zone between the Kurds of Syria and the Kurds in south-east Turkey…. At its core, the issue at hand is one of sovereignty. Turkey is essentially threatening to invade Syria. This makes a mockery of the territorial integrity of the Arab state. And this is alarming.”

Mr. Erdogan’s government has denied that it has any intentions of establishing a long-term presence in Syria, as evidenced by statements of a spokesman for the president published by Hurriyet Daily News: “Turkey has no intention to occupy any part of Syria,  said Turkey’s presidential spokesman late on Oct. 7…. Reminding Turkey’s last two military operations in northern Syria, Kalın said Turkey did not occupy any part of Syrian land…. When asked if the resettling millions of refugees from Turkey back to Syria was not going to cause demographic re-engineering, Kalın answered the PKK/PYD/YPG changed the demography east of the Euphrates…. Kalın said the Kurds will ‘of course’ continue to live where they have lived for centuries.”

However, those promises ring hollow when juxtaposed against this strongly worded editorial by the pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper: “Sometimes in life, it is better to err on the side of incaution. By launching an incursion into northeastern Syria, Turkey will hit two birds with one stone. It will crackdown on the designated terrorist organization PKK’s Syrian affiliate, the People’s Protection Units (YPG)…. The Turkish incursion is also good for the Kurds themselves. In recent years, the U.S. foreign policy and national security establishment, like many people around the world who seek to dress up self-interest as sound policy, felt that they could decide who counted as a Kurd…. That the PKK’s Kurdish rivals, along with thousands of Arabs, Turkmens and Christians, continue to live in Turkey begs the question: if the Pentagon’s pet terrorists represent all Syrian Kurds, as the world seems to believe, who are the refugees from Kobani and other predominantly Kurdish parts of Syria?”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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