Amid the ongoing civil war in Syria, Turkey’s attacks on Kurdish fighters in northern Syria are feared to further worsen the Syrian situation, deepening the humanitarian crisis and causing the emergence of radical elements. Relevant countries must ramp up pressure on Turkey and work toward settling the situation.
Turkey has launched military operations against Kurdish forces, which effectively control northern Syria. The battle line has expanded as the Kurds have fought back.
Kurds are a minority ethnic group residing in areas along the borders with Iraq, Iran and Syria. They have expanded their area of control in Syria amid civil war since 2011 and now hold one-third of the country.
In Turkey, a Kurdish armed group has conducted separatist operations, including terrorist bombings. The administration of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan labels the group a “terrorist organization.” The attacks this time are likely aimed at cutting off the links between Kurdish forces in Turkey and Syria, thereby improving public safety.
Ankara is trying to set up safe zones in its targeted attack areas to repatriate Syrian refugees in Turkey to these zones. Can this be realized amid the Syrian civil war between the administration of Syrian President Bashar Assad and anti-government and Kurdish forces?
Unilateral military actions will not bring about peace and stability. Turkey must first halt the attacks.
Allies must be active
It should not be forgotten that the Kurdish forces in Syria played a role in mopping up the radical group called the Islamic State (IS). The Kurds contributed to weakening IS while suffering a large amount of casualties in ground battles. They also administer facilities in which captured IS combatants are detained.
IS lost all of its strongholds in March, but it is too early to ease mopping-up operations. What should not be allowed to happen is for IS remnants to resurge while Kurdish forces are putting all their energy into fighting against Turkey.
U.S. President Donald Trump is heavily responsible for bringing about the current situation. After holding a teleconference with Erdogan, Trump ordered a withdrawal of U.S. troops from areas where the Kurdish forces are active. Trump thus issued a message that can be inevitably taken as tacit approval of Turkish attacks on the Kurds.
His action, which is tantamount to abandoning the Kurdish forces, which worked with U.S. troops, drew a barrage of criticism from the U.S. Congress, with some lawmakers saying that allies’ trust in the United States will decline. The U.S. Defense Department has emphasized the importance of continuing to station U.S. troops in Syria.
In Afghanistan and Iraq as well, the United States reduced its commitment after supporting specific local forces, thus bringing about a worsening and destabilization of public safety. If Trump sticks to the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria with next year’s presidential election in mind, the same situation will be repeated.
How will the United States maintain the system under which it is responsible for ensuring regional order? U.S. allies, including European countries and Japan, should face the situation seriously rather than regard it as having nothing to do with them.