John Davison of Exaro -
Military action by Turkey against Kurdish rebel forces in Syria raises the prospect of a direct clash with the US, according to experts speaking to Exaro, the investigative website.
Turkey’s surprise election result on November 1, which saw President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) gain overall control of the country’s parliament, has ratcheted up tensions between the Nato allies in the war in Syria.
The US is increasing its support for Kurdish forces in their fight against the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” (IS) in northern Syria, including the deployment of special-operations advisors – due to arrive this month. Turkey’s military, meanwhile, has started targeting the same Kurds.
Bill Park, senior lecturer in defence studies at King’s College London, told Exaro: “The flashpoint would be if the Americans somehow got caught up in the things that Turkey is doing.” He added: “There is an incident out there waiting to happen.”
One security specialist based in the region, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “The Americans are really fed up with Turkey. They have had enough.”
The US is apparently alarmed by the expansion of Turkey’s ongoing military action against fighters from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the south east of the country to attacks on Kurdish rebels in Syria.
The security expert continued: “The Americans have said some diplomatic things about Turkey’s right to self-defence. It does not mean, though, that they do not think that Turkey is dragging the region towards permanent instability.”
Experts on the region also say that the sectarian divisions in Turkey – fuelled by the election campaign – are set to draw the country deeper into conflict. Some warn of a steady slide into civil war in Turkey.
Erdogan’s electoral victory on November 1 confounded polls when the AKP regained a majority in the Turkish parliament, having lost overall control in elections in June. The Turkish president had gambled by calling a snap election in the hope of strengthening his grip on power.
He campaigned on the need for a strong government to counter the growing violence that has seized the country since June. Two suicide bombers killed 102 people in Turkey’s capital of Ankara a month ago.
But regional experts blamed Erdogan’s approach in his election campaigning for polarising Turkey and deepening its insecurity.
A developing peace process with the PKK, which has been waging a 30-year war for autonomy in the south east of the country, collapsed in July. Turkish planes resumed bombing, while the PKK has reportedly killed more than 100 police and soldiers in the area.
Amid the escalating conflict, Erdogan characterised the pro-Kurdish opposition, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), as “terrorists”.
Following the election, Erdogan vowed to “liquidate” the PKK. His government also seems intent on targeting Kurds in Syria.
The American priority in Syria is to combat IS. Its only effective ally on the ground is the armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which represents Syrian Kurds.
Bombing by American planes has enabled PYD fighters to halt and reverse gains made by IS in the border region.
Last month, the White House said that America had dropped 50 tons of weapons and ammunition for Syrian forces opposed to IS. The White House then announced that up to 50 American special-operations advisors would be deployed to the area to give training and help further co-ordination.
But Erdogan views the PYD as an affiliate of the “terrorist” PKK, and does not want a strong mini-Kurdish state on his southern border.
Just before the election, Turkey confirmed that its forces had fired on Syrian Kurdish fighters in the border town of Tal Abyad, which was captured from IS over the summer.
The PYD claimed that these attacks have since intensified with the use of heavy artillery.
So a confrontation looms between the Turkish military and Kurdish forces advised by US ground troops.
Bill Park, of King’s College, said: “This does put the US and Turkey in direct opposition.”
“We do not know what diplomacy is going on,” he continued, “but it does look almost inevitable that there is going to be some tension, and there might well be an incident.”
Last month, Exaro revealed how a dramatic diplomatic breakdown between Saudi Arabia and Russia was set to escalate fighting in Syria.
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