Why the US doesn’t want Turkey to invade Syria

US officials this week warned Turkey against expanding its so-called buffer zone in northeastern Syria, saying such a move would complicate counter-ISIS efforts and increase violence by Kurds and Syrians in the region since the country’s first invasion Turkey suspended in 2019.

“We are firmly opposed to any Turkish operation in northern Syria and have made our objections clear to Turkey,” Middle East Assistant Deputy Defense Secretary Dana Stroul said in a speech at the Middle East Institute Wednesdayj. “ISIS will take advantage of this campaign, not to mention the humanitarian impact.”

As Stroul pointed out, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a group largely made up of Kurds and vital to ground combat to retake ISIS-held territory in Iraq and Syria, are responsible for security in Al-Hol and Azraq in charge camp. Together, the camps house about 60,000 vulnerable displaced persons and serve as prisons for about 10,000 suspected ISIS fighters.

On May 23, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his military would launch more offensives and create a 30-kilometer-deep buffer zone once the military and intelligence and security services have completed their preparations. Reuters reported.

“The main target of these operations will be areas that are centers of attacks on our country and security zones,” Erdogan said during a speech at the time, although he did not specifically mention where the operations would take place or indicated any specific target.

Erdogan has repeatedly warned that his military is planning an invasion of northeastern Syria to push further into Kurdish ethnic minority territory.

“This is a global problem, it’s not a US problem,” Stroul said of a Turkish attack weakening security in northeastern Syria. “Honestly at this point the whole world should be a little more actively concerned with the risks, with the second and third order implications of renewed operations affecting the security of these detention facilities, security and access to the displaced person camps and continued anti-terrorist Pressure on ISIS.”

While it is true that a further regrouped ISIS could pose a global threat to some extent, the reality is that both a resurgence of ISIS and renewed violence from Turkey hit local civilians first and often most devastatingly.

Turkey has invaded Syrian territory before

Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring in 2019, its third foray into Syrian territory since 2016, to “neutralize terrorist threats against Turkey and lead to the establishment of a security zone facilitating the return of Syrian refugees to their homes.” Erdogan tweeted at the time.

“We will preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and rid local communities of terrorists,” he continued, referring to the Kurdish Workers’ Party, a Kurdish militant group in Turkey that the US considers a terrorist group, as well as the Kurdish Armed Forces and the Kurdish administration in northeastern Syria. Now Erdogan says he wants to go further.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was reportedly briefed on a possible invasion NBC News’ Courtney Kube; Austin then instructed Pentagon staff to develop a response, according to defense officials whom Kube questioned in the background. When the Department of Defense was asked to confirm Kube’s reporting, Vox referenced Stroul’s comments on Wednesday.

Anya Briy, a researcher and member of the emergency committee for Rojava – the autonomous Kurdish region in northeastern Syria – currently in the city of Qamislo (which lies on the border between Rojava and Turkey), said: “The [Rojava] The government is preparing for an invasion, it has declared a state of emergency and military reinforcements have been sent to the areas Turkey has chosen to attack”, specifying that the reinforcements in question are with the Syrian government, which has agreed to support the SDF in the event of an invasion.

Mazloum Abdi, the commander-general of the SDF, warned in a news conference on Friday that Turkey is preparing for another invasion. Abdi acknowledged talks with the US but expressed doubts about the coalition’s ability to stop further incursions. saying“The coalition has taken a stand, but it cannot stop Turkey’s attacks on our territories.”

Turkey and its partner forces have been accused of numerous human rights violations during the occupation

Much of the US and Kurdish concern about the invasion relates to its possible humanitarian impact.

Human Rights Watch and others have documented Abuse of civilians in a so-called “safe zone” since its creation in the 2019 invasion of Kurdish-controlled Syrian territory, which has included indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, sexual violence, and the restriction of critical supplies such as water to Kurdish-held areas.

In 2021, Turkey’s partner force, the Syrian National Army (SNA), arbitrarily arrested 162 people and recruited at least 20 children to their factions. according to Human Rights Watch Report. Any attempt by Turkey to increase its territory in Syria will, in turn, increase violence against the civilian population and lead to further instability in an already unstable landscape.

That PKK or Kurdistan Workers’ Party, is a Kurdish nationalist militant group based in Turkey. She was responsible for terrorist attacks there in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, first to overthrow the Turkish government and later to demand rights and self-determination for the Kurds a nation that had historically oppressed them by banning their culture, massacre civiliansand the destruction of Kurdish villages, among other abuses.

Besides the Rojava Information Center – a volunteer-run media organization in Rojava providing analysis, research and reporting on Northeast Syria – the latest report on the situation of the occupation points to the forced displacement of Kurds and the building of villages for Arab Syrians from other parts of the country. The report estimates that nearly 300,000 Kurds have been displaced from the Afrin region of northern Syria since 2018, with almost as many refugees settling there with the help of Turkish government-linked facilities and investments from the Gulf states.

Battle – and human rights violations – Along Turkey’s Syrian and Iraqi borders has also increased since 2015, when a ceasefire between Turkey and the PKK collapsed. According to the analysis of international crisis group, 600 civilians were killed in terrorist attacks or fighting; Since 2015, 3,878 PKK fighters and 1,360 members of Turkish state security forces have been killed. During the 2019 invasion, the group found further evidence of abuse such as: summary executions of civilians, mass displacementand Attacks on civilian targets on the part of the Turkish Armed Forces and the SNA were found by.

A resurgent ISIS would be bad for the world and worst for Syrians and Iraqis

As Stroul pointed out on Wednesday, there are risks to the security of the IS prisons and refugee camps that the SDF guards. According to their estimate, nearly 10,000 ISIS fighters are being held in SDF-run prisons and some 60,000 refugees – some of whom are ISIS sympathizers and have high potential for radicalization – are living in Al-Hol and Azaq camps in “degrading, indiscriminate and often… inhumane and life-threatening conditions”, according to a 2022 Human Rights Watch Report.

At the height of its power, the main victims of ISIS’s cruel ideology and methods were the people actually living under its rule. brutal violence, including public executions or threats of serious physical harm for violations such as wearing western clothing, were the daily norm. While attacks in the west and other regions successfully sowed terror, civilians in ISIS-controlled areas were forced to live in a constant state of fear.

As a Syrian journalist Taim Al-Hajj wrote in March of this year for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, ISIS still orchestrates smaller, regional attacks that do not depend on territorial control. A Pentagon report December 2021 describes a shrunken ISIS in both Iraq and Syria — but one that still has the ability to attack, instill fear, and “exploit and provoke sectarian, ethnic, and tribal divisions.” In Syria, ISIS mainly conducts small-scale attacks and kidnappings to establish a renewed territorial caliphate.

On the US side, there is concern that in an already unstable situation, SDF fighters and prison guards will leave prisons and camps to protect their communities in the event of a Turkish invasion. That’s probably a legitimate concern.

“There’s a limited number of SDFs, so they’re going to deprioritize what’s important to us,” Stroul said. “What is close to our hearts is the security of detention facilities and the continuation of partnered counter-terrorism operations so we can keep the pressure on ISIS.”

If Turkey does indeed attack and SDF fighters advance north, conditions would be favorable for ISIS to stage a prison break – a tactic they are used to. In January, IS attempted a high-stakes operation at a prison in Hasakah, Syria in which more than 500 people were killed and an unknown number of prisoners escaped, the Washington Post Louisa Loveluck and Sarah Cahlan reported in February. SDF guards only regained control of the facility after 10 days of fighting, with the support of American and British forces. In the Post’s accounts of the battle, civilians were either displaced by the fighting, held under lock and key, or left without access to critical supplies such as medicine and fuel.

However, the invasion is not a fait accompli, no matter what Erdogan says. According to Briy, op Meeting on Tuesday between Turkey, Iran and Russia could thwart Turkey’s efforts. Despite the preparations for the attack and the potentially serious consequences for both counter-terrorism operations and the humanitarian situation in Syria. “There is also a belief that Turkey will ultimately not get permission to attack from either Russia or Iran,” she said.

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