News Analysis: Turkey may not deliver on threat of hitting Syrian Kurdish militia further amid rapprochement

Source: Xinhua| 2018-04-27 21:04:13|Editor: Shi Yinglun
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ISTANBUL, April 27 (Xinhua) -- Recent remarks by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggest that Ankara may give up its plan to clear eastern Syria of Kurdish militia amid signs of rapprochement with the United States in the Syrian theater, according to analysts.

Turkey would not move to eliminate the Kurdish militia along its border unless the militia, known as the People's Protection Units (YPG) which Ankara sees as a terror group, poses a threat and stage attacks against Turkey, Erdogan said last weekend.

The president's remarks and the latest development strongly imply that the Turkish military would not launch further operations against the militia, Cahit Armagan Dilek, head of the Ankara-based 21st Century Turkey Institute, told Xinhua.

Ankara is not eager to shed blood in those areas held by Kurds if there is no threat, Erdogan said.

In contrast, top Turkish officials had repeatedly vowed until recently that Ankara would expand its military operations against the U.S.-backed YPG into northeastern Syria as well as to Manbij, where the United States has a military presence.

The Turkish military announced a "full control" of the YPG-held Afrin region in northwestern Syria on March 24 following a two-month campaign. Turkish officials have stopped, roughly for about a month, talking about launching fresh campaigns against other YPG-held areas.

In the view of Dilek, a former staff officer in the Turkish military, recent U.S.-led missile strikes on Syrian sites have indicated that Ankara's vision for war-torn Syria is actually similar to that of its Western allies rather than Russia.

The United States, Britain and France carried out a wave of missile strikes against the Syrian government on April 14, accusing it, without convincing evidence so far, of having used poison gas against civilians.

Ankara, which has coordinated its Syrian policy more with Russia rather than with its NATO ally the United States since mid 2016, immediately expressed support for the air raids.

All signs indicate that Ankara will again pursue policies that are in line with the United States in Syria, Hasan Koni, a professor of public international law at Istanbul Kultur University, told Xinhua.

Ankara had earlier supported, together with Washington, rebel groups fighting to topple the Syrian government. It changed partners and started to cooperate with Moscow, a staunch ally of Damascus in the war, when Washington continued to heavily arm the YPG despite Ankara's vehement opposition.

Turkey sees the YPG as the Syrian offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which has been fighting for an autonomy if not an independent Kurdistan in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast.

Dilek said that some bargaining and favors by the United States may also be included in Washington's efforts, in the run-up to the presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey slated for June 24, to dissuade Ankara from another operation against the YPG.

Some believe that the United States could hand over, ahead of June elections, some Turkish nationals in the United States who are accused by Ankara of being linked to a failed military coup in Turkey in 2016 in return for the release of an American Christian pastor who has been jailed pending trial in Turkey.

"The United States could also provide intelligence to Turkey for operations against the PKK at home and in northern Iraq to bolster the perception it is at Turkey's side," said Dilek. "Such moves by the United States would make it easier for the Erdogan administration to accept U.S. plans regarding Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria."

Many feel the United States wants a federal or a state-like Kurdish entity along the Turkish border, while Russia claims that Washington aims to disintegrate Syria.

As Turkey was conducting its two-month Afrin operation, Ankara had resolutely stated that all those who would stand by terrorists in Syria would be targeted by Turkish troops.

In response, the United States had made clear that its troops would fight back an attack against Kurdish-controlled areas other than Afrin.

As signs of rapprochement between Ankara and Washington emerged lately, Erdogan's discourse towards the United States has significantly changed.

Addressing a crowd on April 12, he said Turkey would never think of pointing a gun at the soldiers of its allies, although he also underlined Ankara's resolve to eliminate the YPG threat.

Erdogan's remarks came the same day when local media quoted an unnamed high-level U.S. official as saying that "the United States wants to find a way of eliminating Turkey's security concerns in Syria."

The moment Ankara sees a U.S. effort for rapprochement, it would stop getting too intimate with Moscow and Tehran, Koni said, referring to the fact that Turkey not only has deep-rooted military ties with the West, but its economy is highly dependent on it.

The United States, disturbed about growing Iranian influence in Syria, may well try to pull Ankara to its side in the Syrian theater.

Ankara, Moscow and Tehran struck a deal last year in the Kazakh capital of Astana to seek a political settlement of the Syrian conflict.

If the United States ensures that the YPG poses no security threat to Turkey, then Ankara could again start causing problems for Damascus by supporting the Free Syrian Army rebels and the rebels in the province of Idlib, Koni said.

"That would deal a blow to both the Syrian regime and the Iranian influence in Syria," he added.