The answer remains uncertain whether Turkey will invade, but no matter which path Turkey pursues in this possible invasion, ultimately, it will be the Kurdish people who will have to bear the greatest amount of suffering.
Tensions are heating up in Northern Syria as Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, called an attack in October by the People’s Protection Units (YPG) the “Final straw” in Turkey’s struggle against the YPG. Later in the month, Turkish troops were spotted moving towards the Syrian border and conducted a drone strike on YPG positions. Based on the lead-up to previous attacks, it seems that an invasion is imminent.
Turkey, alongside Turkish-backed militant groups, has invaded Northern Syria three times already, slowly taking away land controlled by the YPG. The most well-known invasion occurred in 2019, when then-president Trump withdrew troops from the region, allowing Turkey to take the YPG head-on. The invasion was widely seen as a disaster for American strategic policy in the Middle East and was condemned by politicians from both parties in Congress. By the end of the operation, Turkey occupied a large swath of territory in Northern Syria and agreed to joint patrols across the entire border with Russian troops.
Turkey has not achieved all that it had hoped for in that operation. The original plan was to occupy all of the border regions of Northeastern Syria. This never came to fruition. Instead, the Assad regime and Russia were pushed into the conflict, both of which announced their support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a mainly Kurdish military force to which the YPG belongs. This alliance between the SDF and the Syrian Arab Army, the formal name of the army under the Assad regime, surprised many. However, the reality was that the SDF was already being pushed back on the front line, leaving them with nowhere else to turn. The SDF request for support was likely agreed to because of growing anger from Damascus for what they viewed as a Turkish invasion of their sovereign territory. Pressure by Russia and the Syrian government forced Turkey to sign a cease-fire, granting Turkey control of the lands they occupied in Northern Syria, but not the entire border region.
It has been one month since Erdoğan declared the “last straw” with the YPG, yet no decisive invasion has occurred, leaving many wondering why.
The answer lies with the complicated geopolitical situation Turkey finds itself in, which would make a successful invasion difficult. Before Turkey could invade, Erdoğan would have to strike a deal with Russia and the Americans. Should Turkey not make a deal, the nation would face harsh sanctions from global powers with interests in the region.
Erdoğan may find some luck with the Russians. It is possible that Russia would allow a Turkish operation if Turkey were to give the Assad Regime concessions in the Idlib region, which is controlled by Turkish-backed rebels. The Assad Regime wishes to gain greater control of the M4 highway that surrounds the region, but it is unclear if Turkey is willing to make such concessions.
However, the United States made it clear that it intends to continue supporting the SDF. It is unlikely that the current administration in Washington will take such a disastrous and sudden reversal of policy in Northeastern Syria, as the prior administration did two years ago.
So will Turkey invade? The answer remains uncertain. However, if the history of Turkey tells us anything, the nation has seemingly always found ways around tricky situations through compromise and negotiations to achieve its geopolitical goals.
Should Turkey invade, the SDF could face a situation similar to that of 2019, forcing them to turn towards the Russians and the Assad regime. The Kurds would likely see such an invasion as another stab in the back by the Americans, who failed to protect them once again. No matter which path Turkey pursues in this possible invasion, ultimately, it will be the Kurdish people who will have to bear the greatest amount of suffering.
For now, however, the future remains uncertain, and one can only wait and see.
Caden Umansky is a first year International Studies student in the School of International Service. He is a Staff Writer at American Agora.
Image Credits: Kurdishstruggle