As you might have noticed, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is about to lose his mind with the situation in Syria.
To be sure, the effort to usurp the Bashar al-Assad government wasn’t exactly going as planned in the first place. Regime change always takes time, but the conflict in Syria was dragging into its fifth year by the time the Russians got directly involved and although it did indeed look as though the SAA was on the verge of defeat, the future of the rebellion was far from certain.
But to whatever extent the rebels’ fate was up in the air before September 30, the cause was dealt a devastating blow when Moscow’s warplanes began flying sorties from Latakia and while Ankara and Riyadh were initially willing to sit on the sidelines and see how things played out, once Russia and Hezbollah encircled Aleppo, it was do or die time. The supply lines to Turkey were cut and without a direct intervention by the rebels’ Sunni benefactors, Moscow and Hassan Nasrallah’s army would ultimately move in on Aleppo proper and that, as they say, would be that.
The problem for Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar is optics. That is, everything anyone does in Syria has to be justified by an imaginary “war on terror.” Turkey can’t say it’s intervening to keep the rebels from being defeated by the Russians, and similarly, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the US, France and everyone else needs to preserve the narrative and pretend as though this all doesn’t boil down to the West and the Sunnis versus the Russians and the Shiites.
Here’s what we said earlier this month: somehow, Turkey and Saudi Arabia need to figure out how to spin an attack on the YPG and an effort to rescue the opposition at Aleppo as an anti-ISIS operation even though ISIS doesn’t have a large presence in the area.
Well it turns out that’s an impossible task and so, Turkey has resorted to Plan B: a possible false flag bombing and the old “blame the Kurds” strategy.
The attack on military personnel in Ankara this week was claimed by The Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (an offshoot of the PKK) in retaliation for Turkey’s aggressive campaign in Cizre (as documented here), but Erdogan has taken the opportunity to remind the world that the PKK and the YPG are largely synonymous. That is, they’re both armed groups of non-state actors and if one is a terrorist organization, then so is the other.
Erdogan’s anti-Kurd stance is complicated immeasurably by the fact that both the US and Russia support the YPG out of sheer necessity. The group has proven especially adept at battling ISIS and has secured most of the border with Turkey. As we noted way back in August, it was inevtiable that Washington and Ankara would come to blows over the YPG. After all, the US only secured access to Incirlik by acquiescing to Erdogan’s crackdown on the PKK, but some of the missions the US was flying from Turkey’s air base were in support of the YPG. The whole thing was absurd from the very beginning.
Well now, Turkey is not only set to use the fight against the YPG as an excuse to intervene in Syria on behalf of the Sunni rebels battling to beat back the Russian and Iranian advance, but Ankara is also demanding that the US recognize the YPG as a terrorist group. If Washington refuses, “measure will be taken.”
“If the Unites States is really Turkey’s friend and ally, then they should recognize the PYD — a Syrian branch of the PKK — as a terrorist organization. If a friend acts as an enemy, then measures should be taken, and they will not be limited to the Incirlik Airbase, Turkey has significant capabilities,” Erdogan advisor Seref Malkoc told Bugun newspaper.
So yeah. Turkey just threatened the US. It’s notable that Malkoc specifically said actions would go “beyond Incirlik,” because pulling access to the base would be the first thing any regional observers would expect from Ankara in the event of a spat with Washington. For Turkey to say that measures will go beyond that, opens the door for Erdogan to become openly hostile towards his NATO allies.
“The only thing we expect from our U.S. ally is to support Turkey with no ifs or buts,” PM Ahmet Davutoglu told a news conferenceon Saturday.”If 28 Turkish lives have been claimed through a terrorist attack we can only expect them to say any threat against Turkey is a threat against them.”
In other words, Turkey is explicitly asking the US to support Ankara’s push to invade Syria and not only that, Erdogan wants Washington to sanction attacks on the YPG which the US has overtly armed, trained, and funded. “The disagreement over the YPG risks driving a wedge between the NATO allies at a critical point in Syria’s civil war,” Reuters wrote on Saturday. “On Friday, a State Department spokesman told reporters Washington would continue to support organizations in Syria that it could count on in the fight against Islamic State – an apparent reference to the YPG.”
Right. “Washington will continue to support organizations in Syria that it can count on in the fight against Islamic State.” So we suppose that means the US will support Russia. And Iran. And Hezbollah. But most certainly not Turkey, who is the biggest state sponsor of the Islamic State on the face of the planet.