“Turkey’s Syria Intervention,” by Joshua Landis

Turkey’s Syria Intervention 
By Joshua Landis
August 28, 2016

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I answer questions asked me by a Turkish journalist.

  1. Has Turkey established a No Fly Zone over the Azaz-Jarablus pocket?

Turkey has established a No Kurd Zone over the Jarablus pocket, not a NFZ. The US has control of air. When it leaves, Russia will resume control over the airspace, not Turkey. This is undoubtedly why Russia and the Syrian government signed onto the intervention and why US planes flew cover for Turkish and Arab troops and not Turkish planes.

2. Do you think the US will stay and provide air cover in that area (between Azaz-Jarablus) for a long time? Don’t you think this (Turkey attacking Kurds) will bring Turkey, Russia and Assad closer to each other?

I doubt the US Air Force will play an active role in providing air cover in the area. My hunch is that Turkey and Russia have an understanding about non-interference in a specific region. But it does beg the question of what happens at the edges of that agreed upon area. All forces are likely to get draw into a quagmire of conflicting national agendas.

I doubt Turkey’s attack on the Kurds will bring Turkey, Russia and Assad closer to each other. Yes, Assad and Russia are pleased to see the Kurdish-American juggernaut stopped. Neither Syrian Arabs nor Turks want to see a contiguous Kurdish state stretching the length of Syria’s border with Turkey. All the same, Assad and Turkey remain bitter enemies. Turkey is promoting and arming rebel groups that plan to destroy Assad and conquer all of Syria. Assad hopes to drive Turkish backed groups from the country. The two will come into conflict sooner than later. Their common enmity for the Kurds is a bad foundation for understanding.

Turkey will become drawn into the Syrian quagmire. Kurdish groups and some Arab militias will begin to attack the Turkish presence in Syria. This will suck Turkey into the fighting. The Syrian gov & Russia will promote these attacks. They have an interest in bleeding Turkey. They hope it will make Ankara more amenable to compromise. Turkey has already been weakened by the burden of refugees, renewed war with the Kurds, exacerbated internal secular-religious (Sunni-Shiite) discord, the failed coup attempt, the collapse of its Zero Enemies policy, and a sinking economy. Sending Turkish forces into Syria is only likely to continue this downward spiral. Turkish direct participation in the Syria conflict is unlikely to lead to a solution. Rather it is likely to prolong Syria’s agony. If we have learned anything from the Syrian conflict it is that the more external actors are willing to provide money, arms and firepower to Syrian proxies, the longer the war will gone on and the less likely one side is to win.

3. If US insisted on Turkey’s operation, does this mean US didn’t expect Turkey to attack YPG? Now that Turkish forces are hitting them, do you expect US to withdraw its air support? 

The US made it clear to the YPG that it had to pull its forces back east of the Euphrates. This means that if they remain in the Menbij area or continue to try to build a continuous state between Afrin and Kobani, Turkey and its Arab militia allies will attack them. The main question today is whether the US will come to the YPG’s defense should Turkey or its proxies pursue it’s fighters east of the Euphrates.

4. Do assume Turkey will stay there for long?

I believe that Turkey will have to play a long-term role in northern Syria if it is to ensure the survival of its proxy militias and permanently keep out the YPG and Assad forces. They will not give up their ambitions to control the area. The Arab militias are a weak reed upon which to build a Turkish policy in Syria.

5. My last question is: Don’t you think that Turkey, Russia and Assad have reached an agreement? Ankara may have promised Putin that it will slowly withdraw its support for the Arab militias around Aleppo and will keep silent about Asad; whereas Putin may have approved Turkey’s operation and promised to withdraw its jets from that area and its support for the Kurds. What do you think?

Yes, indeed, the three governments seem to have struck an accord.  The Russians did not object to Turkey’s intervention to stop the YPG, suggesting an understanding. Of course, the Syrian government did object, but it had to.

This suggests that an agreement between the parties was arrived at. Russia and the Syrian government would insist that Turkey’s intervention be limited in scope. We still don’t know to what extent, or if Turkey has agreed to cut off arms supplies to the rebels. But we can assume that the softening of Turkey’s position that Assad must step down is part of this understanding. It is quite clear that the United States no longer expects the rebels to win in Syria. The Turkish government also seems to have resigned itself to the survival of the Assad government in the medium term if not indefinitely.

Turkey’s acceptance of Assad’s survival are the terms being demanded by Damascus for cooperation in thwarting YPG expansion. How far Erdogan will go in articulating such an acceptance or cutting off assistance to the rebels remains unclear.

Turkey’s direct entry into Syria does raise the likelihood that Syria will be partitioned between areas controlled by the government, Arab rebels and Kurds.

Comments (24)

Passerby said:

Yep, that about sums it up. I’d be more cynical, like the rest of the peanut gallery here, just because it feels good. Turkey defending ISIS. But yeah, it’s all about the Kurds now, domestic politics, has to let the rest go, crawl on his belly to everyone else, (except the US, who it’s more profitable to insult.)

August 28th, 2016, 12:35 pm


Majedkhaldoun said:

I found contradiction , you said Turkey is arming the Rebels to defeat Assad , at the end you said Turkey may have reached a conclusion that Assad stay , I think you are hoping, wishing ,
As for Turkey involvement in Syria , it is going to be limited , so Turkey is not going to be in a deep quagmire, Russia understands Turkish action against the Kurds so they approved such intervention ,
War always defines enemies, in war you have to choose between the warring sides , either you are with me or against me , war will define which side the US will be on , you can not be with Turkey and against Turkey , US will have to abandon The Kurds or has to oppose Turkey , once ISIS is defeated , US have to clarify its position toward the Kurds, ISIS is going to be defeated soon , six months may be , if Turkey decided to go to Reqqa US may not stop them , nor Russia will do , partition of Syria will be inevitable
Yes there is agreement between Assad and Turkey, allowing Daryya Rebels to reach Idleb is the results of this agreement ,
Today the leaked news is that the Iraq government has financed ISIS along with Iran

August 28th, 2016, 1:35 pm


ALAN said:

Kurdish militants fire rockets on airport in Turkey — Dogan agency


August 28th, 2016, 4:23 pm


Kim said:

Everyone killing each other but ISIS, who openly posting on the side of Turkey. USA basically ensures more groups that will be anti American. Biggest cluster mess I have seen. Kobane mainly has civilians if the USA sits and just watch ( which would be no surprise) shame on them. Have to wonder what Obama is thinking. Between Libya, Syria and Yemen he is ensuring Americans will be prime targets for a LONG time

August 28th, 2016, 5:48 pm


JM said:

Shame on Biden (=and Obama) for abandoning the Syrian Kurds, for Turkey does not even like the Kurds in their own Country. To survive, the Syrian Kurds should perhaps align more with Assad and Russia (=they may have made a bit of a mistake by fighting Assad forces in Hassekah). The Turks have always been too cozy with ISIS, so it will be interesting to see if the Turks go to Al-Bab, let along Raqqa. Meanwhile, Iran, Syria and Turkey are continuing the historic mistreatment of the Kurds; their only hope of some sort of self-determination may in be Iraq, but this should be coupled with keeping Turkish jets out of northern Iraq to really mean anything….

August 28th, 2016, 6:55 pm


habib said:

2. Majedkhaldoun said

Lol, 99,9 chance this “leak” is being disseminated by some Gulf-owned/bribed outlet.

August 28th, 2016, 9:01 pm


skeptic said:

Turks are least-liked party here. Russians, Kurds, non-jihadi Arabs will bleed thwm bad!

August 28th, 2016, 11:28 pm


Ghufran said:

Turkey is pimping the rebels who now have added the Kurds to their list of enemies but the only real outcome of Turkey’s intervention is to prolong the war. Turkey will either have to withdraw and start from scratch or digs deeper and see cost in lives and treasury mounts. The war in that part of Syria is an international war, Assad is unable to add aljazeera to his list of territirries that he controls and many around him are not supportive of engaging the army in that region after looking at the map and realizing that they have more important fights to win. Yes, there has to be some sort of an understanding with Russia and Iran prior to Turkish intervention but the buttom line is that Erdo can not be trusted and he probably wants to score few wins to improve his standing when the pie is divided. Without cutting the cord that connects rebels to the Uthmani placenta he is likely to see his gains reversed or severely reduced.

August 29th, 2016, 3:23 am


ALAN said:

Syria’s Kurds do not have the feature to jump on principles.
Turkey committed crimes, continuing for five years and is still practiced criminality on both sides of the border and should pay the price. It shall inevitably pay!

August 29th, 2016, 7:53 am


Mina said:

I remember some posters here were praising Erdogan day and night, where are they when he needs them?


August 29th, 2016, 8:38 am


mjabali said:

It is easy to read what happened:

The US stood with the Kurds….

Turkey wants to stop the Kurds….

Assad is happy to see Turkey attack the Kurds who are expanding because of the chaos around…

The US stood with the Kurds because the secular kurds stood up to ISIS unlike Turkey who backed ISIS with commerce and Jihadis…

The Kurds want the rich Syrian North East…

The conclusion: more wars and more violence to come….

August 29th, 2016, 8:48 am


mjabali said:

ISIS or IS is a Sunni invention whoever says anything but this is in a coma…

August 29th, 2016, 8:53 am


ALAN said:

UN Security Council once again shows itself impotent in relation to Turkey and its military invasion of the sovereign territory of our country. Therefore, this organization is a partner in the aggression on Syria.
The Permanent Representative of Uruguay Ambassador Elbio Rosselli & Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon: Do you rant yesterday about Korean missiles? Have you done anything towards Turkey’s occupation of the territory of Syria?
I despise you!

August 29th, 2016, 8:53 am


Joshua said:

MAJEDKHALDOUN, I am not sure Turkey’s willingness to deal with Assad precludes its continued support for rebel groups that can extend Turkish influence in Syria. Just because Assad and Erdogan both want to limit Kurdish expansion and are willing to cooperate to do so does not mean that they remain bitter enemies who seek to do each other harm. If this is a contradiction, perhaps it is because human objectives are not always harmonious?

I do agree that Turkey’s entry into Syria makes partition between Assad, rebels, and Kurds ever more likely.

August 29th, 2016, 9:28 am


Norman said:

I wonder if Syria is waiting for the Iraqi Army to take Mousel and come from the East before Syria tries with its Army to move east

August 29th, 2016, 12:01 pm


ALAN said:

The United States is the despicable state turned the Kurds from the site of a defender of the self to proxy forces, and then started the dirty play on contradictions. It is responsible for the bloodshed on the entire Syrian geography.
America is the enemy here. it is the planner of all of these geopolitical broth.
Turkey is building now the wall of racial Erdogan in front of the international silence in Syria.
We Kurds, are proud that we are Syrian citizens, the epic of Honor will coming soon
Finally, I would like to spit on top of ِAmerican existing values.
You are cheap nation, sells itself to the demons

August 29th, 2016, 1:34 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Singing the Same Wesistance Tune, Day In and Day Out NewZ

America is the enemy here. it is the planner of all of these geopolitical broth.

That’s right Ahlan, not Iran, not Assad, not KSA, not Russia and not Hezbollah.

It’s all America’s fault…Zzzzzzz…

August 29th, 2016, 1:52 pm


Mina said:

Why are Saudis in Raqqa? Why don’t we hear about the measures taken against them, such as depriving them of their citizenship, send special forces to seize them, etc. Is the kingdom too weak? no army? no weapons?


August 29th, 2016, 2:06 pm


TRM said:

The Kurdish-American juggernaut?

August 29th, 2016, 2:07 pm


Majedkhaldoun said:

Partition of northern Syria is clear now , Kurds , Turkish controlled area , Rebels area, so what is Aleppo fate? This is what is negotiated between Russia and US, but this is not the end, still the question is who will fight ISIS in Reqqa? If Turkey attack Reqqa then the whole eastern Syria will be under the indirect control of Turkey , ,
All this is going on while the south is not changing , the Golan Heights will probably become neutral area , and Assad will stay in Western Syria ,
This in no way sectarian division , it is going to be setting the conditions for future war

August 29th, 2016, 5:42 pm


ALAN said:

keep dreaming there in your lovely North Pindo-stan.

August 29th, 2016, 6:01 pm


mjabali said:

The situation in northern Syria is taking away from a disaster about to happen if Jund al-Aqsa are able to enter into Mhardeh, a Christian town near Hama.

Jund al-Aqsa is the bastard child of the break up between ISIS and al-Nusra if you did not know…..mostly international Jihadis..

August 29th, 2016, 9:00 pm


Ellen Dibble said:

After the coup and a series of terrorist attacks, claimed or attributed in ways that are not persuasive, given the red herring factor, what is a proud leader like Erdogan to do? Go to Putin in a road to “Damascus” conversion, NATO in name only? Or was that a way of smoking out the diplomats he needed, like Kerry and Biden. A Turkish leader is in an interesting spot. Landis’s article seems to point to Erdogan’s move as quagmire-headed, and the Kurds having better chance of a state in northern Iraq, current fury of Kurds at US notwithstanding. I notice two bits of news since the 28th that suggest Obama’s direction. One was in Democracy Now! on Monday, with Glenn Greenwald, where apparently Obama is trying to lock in advantage to Israel for a decade, while Congress if on break and campaigning. I’ll link and quote. The other is the unidentified plane over Al-Bab on the 29th, and the reported attack on Al-Adnani, strategist and spox for ISIL today right there, northeast of Aleppo. I’ll link that too. Amy Goodman: “I wanted to ask you, Glenn, about a piece you just recently wrote. It’s headlined “As Israel Prospers, Obama Set to Give Billions More in Aid While Netanyahu Demands Even More.” See http://www.democracynow.org/2016/8/29/greenwald_journalists_should_not_stop_scrutinizing and this map http://syria.liveuamap.com/en/2016/29-august-unidentified-plane-over-albab-aleppo-syria–hex And Iran? Flexing its naval muscle in the Gulf?

August 30th, 2016, 8:17 pm


Syrialover said:

Add this to the endless list of stinking war crimes by the so-called
“Syrian government”:

Large-scale OFFICIALLY PERMITTED AND FACILITATED looting, theft and profiteering by Assadist groups from the possessions of people forced to leave their homes.

“Looted Darayya furniture for sale on streets of neighbouring town” – http://syriadirect.org/news/looted-darayya-furniture-for-sale-in-streets-of-neighboring-town/

A sickening, heartbreaking read. Items treasured and handed down for generations in ordinary Syrian families given as reward to criminals.

It happened in Palmyra, where convoys of Hezbollah militia were given the go-ahead to plunder and strip homes before the residents were permitted to return.

It’s happening everywhere, it’s in the DNA of the Assad regime to have theft as part of their violence.

August 31st, 2016, 5:22 pm


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