Tensions are high on the border between Turkey and Syria as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is once again threatening to invade Syria in order to target pro-Western Syrian Kurdish fighters that it brands as “terrorists.”
Turkish forces and Kurdish militias have been exchanging frequent fire and the situation could easily escalate at any moment. The stakes are high for both sides with the possibility for a large number of fatalities.
The Turkish government has launched three larger military incursions in Syria since 2016, but the timing of this latest potential invasion is no coincidence. Pundits believe Erdoğan has identified a window of opportunity to act now, as the world is preoccupied with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In addition, as a NATO member state, Turkey reportedly believes it is in a strong position to negotiate with its potential veto on the future membership of Finland and Sweden.
During a Cabinet meeting in late May, Erdoğan threatened to invade Syria, saying that the goal was to establish a 30-kilometer buffer zone on the Syrian side of the Turkish-Syrian border.
“We will soon take new steps regarding the incomplete portions of the project we started on the 30-km deep safe zone we established along our southern border,” Erdoğan stated. He consequently hopes to address Turkey’s previously failed attempt to create such a buffer zone in 2019.
“We’ll come down on them suddenly one night. And we must,” warned Erdoğan without revealing any details of a timeline.
Turkish military operations have typically targeted the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the main Kurdish militia inside Syria. The official Turkish position is that the Kurdish militia is a “terrorist organization” and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, internationally-known as PKK.
The United States has voiced concerns regarding the increased tensions between Turkey and the Kurdish militia. As a NATO member, Turkey is, at least in theory, a U.S. ally. On the other hand, the Kurdish militia has been the main pro-American force inside Syria and has been fighting successfully against the radical Islamic State terrorist group.
The United States recently warned Turkey against invading Syria.
“We are deeply concerned about reports and discussions of potential increased military activity in northern Syria and, in particular, its impact on the civilian population,” U.S. State Department Spokesman Ned Price told reporters. “We condemn any escalation. We support maintenance of the current ceasefire lines.”
Meanwhile, the American-backed Kurdish militia YPG, announced on Tuesday that it would seek the assistance of the Syrian regime should Turkish forces invade Syria. While there is no love lost between the Assad regime and Kurdish forces, both view Turkey as an unwanted invader in Syria.
A Turkish invasion, therefore, could potentially lead to a temporary alliance of convenience between the Damascus regime and Kurdish fighters.
“The meeting confirmed the readiness of (SDF) forces to coordinate with forces of the Damascus government to confront any possible Turkish incursion and to protect Syrian territories against occupation,” read the official statement of the Kurdish militia. In addition, the Kurdish fighting force stressed that a “possible Turkish invasion will affect the stability and unity of Syria’s territories.”
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is an umbrella military organization backed by the United States and consists of mainly Kurdish, but also Arab, Assyrian and Armenian forces.