Turkey is succeeding in its campaign of imposing cost on pro-regime forces in northwestern Syria. Turkey’s recent deployment to reinforce the de-escalation zone in Idlib Province capitalizes on the divergent tactical prioritizations between Russia and Iran in Syria.
The Assad regime and Iran attacked Turkish forces that deployed into Syria with apparent Russian permission to establish a blocking position near a critical front line south of Aleppo City. Turkey’s goal was to deter Assad and Iran from providing military support to Kurdish forces defending Afrin against a Turkish offensive.
Turkey launched an air-ground operation against the American partner force in Syria, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), in Afrin district northwest of Aleppo City on January 20th, 2018. Turkey’s goal is to extend its buffer zone along the Syrian-Turkish border. Turkey may subsequently attack the town of Manbij, east of Afrin on the banks of the Euphrates River. Turkey’s operations threaten to provoke a widening Turkish-Kurdish war that could unravel the U.S. stabilization effort in eastern Syria, place U.S. service members in Manbij at risk, and force the U.S. to reconsider support for the YPG.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is preparing to attack America’s local partner in northern Syria on two fronts along the Turkish border. Russia and the Bashar al Assad regime support his planned operation, which could constrain the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to the eastern bank of the Euphrates River and possibly neutralize American plans to build an SDF-linked “border security force.”
Turkey is using a combination of military and diplomatic pressure to compel Russia and Iran to halt further offensive operations against Syria’s al Qaeda dominated Idlib Province. An Assad-Iranian-Russian conquest of Idlib is not in America’s national security interest.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s drive for independence is generating new regional alignments that deepen Iranian – and potentially Russian – influence in Iraq at the expense of the United States. Turkey, Iran, and Iraq adopted a coordinated, aggressive force posture in retaliation for the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) independence referendum on September 25, 2017.
The conclusion of an agreement between Turkey and the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition to open Turkish airbases for coalition aircraft conducting sorties against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) marks a major shift in Turkish policy which will provide immediate boost to U.S. efforts to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIS.
As participants head to Baghdad for this week’s Arab League Summit, the Institute for the Study of War takes stock of the opportunities and challenges for Arab leaders at the conference.