What Washington has called a “game changer” — the agreement to use İncirlik Air Base and bases in the provinces of Batman and Diyarbakır to battle the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria — has so far caused a disproportionate side effect of bringing violence and fears of destabilization in Turkey regarding attacks on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Concerning the ISIL dimension of the matter, there has only been confusion.
The first issue was the subject of my previous article. There is not much more to add, at the moment, about the consequences of the relationship between cynical political games in Ankara and the ongoing bloodbath, which now threatens even the big cities. The latest statements from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on “fighting PKK terrorists until all their weapons are buried under cement,” have only added to the fears.
Confusion regarding the other issue has surfaced following conflicting statements from officials in Washington and Ankara about Turkey targeting the People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in Syrian territory, and also about the creation of no-fly and safe zones inside the same territory.
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner swiftly denied claims made in a report allegedly quoting Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu as saying an “agreement [had been] reached” to establish a “safe zone” with the Americans. Earlier, US officials had made it clear that the YPG would be excluded from being targeted.
The no-fly and safety zones that the Turkish side — most recently Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in a BBC interview — insists are “necessary” also seem to add to the confusion. When answering questions for the BBC yesterday, I responded that this insistence is mainly aimed at “domestic consumption” rather than having any realistic substance.
The facts regarding the Syrian theater leave little doubt that, given an apparent “mutual understanding” between Washington and Damascus, the Syrian air force already “respects” a de-facto no-fly zone by not attacking targets in northern Syria. Certainly, the weakened force of the Syrian army has something to do with this, but the definition of the “enemy” has led to that. So, Americans have been arguing, there is no need to go any further, when the risks are antagonizing Russia, which is also in a deeper “search mode” about the quagmire there.
The idea of a “safe zone” is even more complicated. Complications arising from matters of international law and considerations of safety — assuming, of course, that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has only the humanitarian dimension in mind — have left Turkey as the single “willing” regional power.
But questions abound: Even if not entering foreign soil, who will protect this zone and how? Will Turkey, which has so far refused any international humanitarian aid and aid workers, allow cooperation? How will ISIL and other deadly radical groups be prevented from penetrating the borders of the zone? What will the role of the only efficient ground force, the YPG, be? What if Russia, Iran and even China object to such an implementation? So on and so forth.
All these questions lead to only one conclusion: Davutoğlu has in mind the political position of his party and its rattled stance at home, and is issuing rhetoric aimed at reinforcing domestic backing. Of course, it will not be very helpful at reversing the immense loss of credibility Turkey has suffered with its allies and in the region, should he attempt to use “the unwillingness” of international powers to direct accusations at them.
The greatest challenge facing the US-Turkish agreement is the mistrust that has built up between those allies. That their interests diverge has been revealed in a very recent report, based on information from a Pentagon source, by Fox News, which states, “US military leaders were ‘outraged’ when Turkey began launching airstrikes against the PKK just hours after striking a deal with the US over ISIS [ISIL].” According to the report, a Turkish officer entered allied headquarters and explained that the strike would begin in 10 minutes, asking that allied jets flying above Iraq pull south of Mosul. A very tense exchange ensued.
The perception of the AKP government as “the reluctant ally” remains. As the geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer told Business Insider, “If Turkey keeps going after the PKK while not trying to provoke ISIS [ISIL], it will leave the US without a Syria strategy.”
It has already left Turkey with a “déjà vu” tsunami of terror, exposing all its vulnerabilities to ISIL members nested here.