By William Tucker
Contributor, In Homeland Security
After years of threats to use military force in Syria, Turkey has finally followed through.
In Homeland Security recently reported on the Turkish invasion of Syria’s Afrin enclave in the northwest part of the country. While the fighting itself is important to follow, it’s also important to understand why Turkey is there and why Ankara took this action in the first place.
Much of the rationale revolves around the Kurdish issue, but there are other factors at play, too. To put a finer point on the situation, Turkey has taken military action against a Kurdish faction allied with the U.S., Turkey’s NATO ally, in a region where Russian military units are based.
Ankara Determined to Pursue Its Own National Interests
Turkey held de-escalation talks with Russia prior to the invasion. Moscow, however, was opposed to the invasion.
But there was not much anyone could do to dissuade Ankara from its course. Turkey took on two major powers to pursue its interests – Russia and the U.S. – and they proved unable, or perhaps unwilling, to stop it.
For Turkey, the Kurdish issue threatens its territorial integrity. After the U.S. allied with the Kurdish YPG, the People’s Protection Units and the associated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to drive out the Islamic State, Turkey became more vocal about its willingness to use military force to prevent the Kurds from establishing an enclave on their shared border.
Turkey Resisting Any Kurdish Independence
Once IS was driven from the area, it was only a matter of time before Turkey took some sort of action. Turkey is profoundly opposed to any Kurdish independence, no matter how small, lest a new Kurdish state inspire Turkey’s Kurdish population to split from Ankara.
Furthermore, Russia declared victory and the U.S. was unwilling to engage in any large, long-term deployments to the region. Turkey used that opportunity to push past the two nations and pursue its interests unilaterally.
With minimal pushback from the U.S., Russia and even the European Union, Turkey has declared that its military operations may soon spread east to Manbij and possibly into Iraq.
With Syria’s civil war entering a new phase and a politically fragmented Iraq, Turkey might well be able to pursue its agenda.
Turkey Expanding Its Control in Syria, Qatar and the Balkans
Beyond the Kurdish issue, there are also concerns in Turkey about an Iranian expansion of its influence in the region at the expense of Ankara, to say nothing of Arab opposition.
In this vein, Turkey is looking to push its influence south through military action, while pursuing diplomatic and economic efforts elsewhere. Turkey recently sent more troops to Qatar, much to the chagrin of Saudi Arabia.
Turkey has also expanded its economic efforts in the Balkans. Under Ottoman rule, Turkey was the dominate force in the Balkans for centuries and this Muslim-dominated nation is still well regarded by the Muslim population in the region. For Ankara, this would be just natural expansion.
After nearly a century of peace following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey finds itself forced to re-establish its influence throughout Ankara’s neighbors. Turkey’s operation “Olive Branch” may be of limited scope at the moment. But the implications of this action, coupled with other initiatives, demonstrate that Turkey is pursuing its national interests unencumbered.