Pentagon fears Turkey escalating war in Syria as worldwide distractions loom

Syrian Kurds protest against Turkey

The Pentagon released a statement expressing concern about Turkish airstrikes against Kurdish militants in northern Syria, which may be a precursor to a full-scale ground operation.

Turkish warplanes carried out air strikes on Kurdish militant bases in northern Syria and northern Iraq on Sunday, destroying 89 targets, Turkey’s defense ministry said, in retaliation for a bomb attack in Istanbul that killed six people one week ago.

The United States’ top ally in Syria warned that unless Washington and the Kremlin push back more firmly, Turkey will launch a ground offensive against his forces that could undermine the battle against the Islamic State.

Syrian Kurdish commander’s plans to defend Kobani and Manbij have US military officials worried about security at prisons holding some 10,000 former ISIS fighters.

The strikes targeted bases of the Syrian Kurdish militia, which Turkey considers a terrorist group because it has bombed cities and recruited child soldiers, while the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has depopulated and burned down thousands of villages and massacred Kurdish civilians in an attempt to root out militants.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said last week it had halted operations against Islamic State terrorsists amid preparations to resist a possible assault from Turkey. That has forced the US military to reduce its patrols alongside the SDF.

The Kurdish population is estimated to be between 30 and 45 million people who live in territories split between Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria—but leaders in those countries generally view those people as vermin, as much of the world sees Palestinians or as Europe looked at Jews prior to World War II and as colonizers treated indigenous people throughout history.

“The Department of Defense is deeply concerned by escalating actions in northern Syria, Iraq, and Turkey,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Brig Gen Patrick Ryder. “This escalation threatens the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS’s years-long progress to degrade and defeat ISIS. Recent air strikes in Syria directly threatened the safety of U.S. personnel who are working in Syria with local partners to defeat ISIS and maintain custody of more than ten thousand ISIS detainees.”

Turkish cross-border shelling by artillery and drone strikes has been going on for at least a week.

Fighters affiliated with the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army fire rounds while standing above a dirt barrier near Azaz in the rebel-held north of the Aleppo province, on Nov. 29, 2022.
Fighters affiliated with the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army fire rounds while standing above a dirt barrier near Azaz in the rebel-held north of the Aleppo province, on Nov. 29, 2022.

Turkey is a member of the US-led coalition to destroy the Islamic State, but it sees the SDF — the coalition’s main partner force on the ground — as a terrorist organization inextricably linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Turkish officials have urged US counterparts for years to end their partnership with the Syrian Kurdish force to no avail. The US does not consider the SDF to be a terrorist organization, though its leadership has ties with — and shares the left-wing political ideology — of the PKK.

Earlier this month the Turkish government accused the SDF of being behind a Nov. 13 bomb blast in a crowded Istanbul market, a charge which Syrian Kurdish officials have squarely denied. The SDF says it poses no threat to Turkey and seeks dialogue to prevent the expansion of the conflict.

“Two rockets targeted coalition forces at the US patrol base in al-Shaddadi, Syria, today at approximately 10:31 p.m. local time in Syria (4:31 p.m. EST),” said a Nov. 25, 2022 dispatch from U.S. ,military’s Central Command. “The attack resulted in no injuries or damage to the base or coalition property.”

Syrian Democratic Forces visited the rocket origin site and found a third unfired rocket.

“Attacks of this kind place coalition forces and the civilian populace at risk and undermine the hard-earned stability and security of Syria and the region,” said Col. Joe Buccino, CENTCOM spokesperson.

The Middle East’s largest ethnic group without a state Kurds are again confronted with a potential for extermination if turkey moves into Syria and the government of Bashar al-Assad.

“Moreover, uncoordinated military actions threaten Iraq’s sovereignty. Immediate de-escalation is necessary in order to maintain focus on the defeat-ISIS mission and ensure the safety and security of personnel on the ground committed to the defeat-ISIS mission,” said Ryder. “We condemn the loss of civilian life that has occurred in both Turkey and Syria as a result of these actions and offer our condolences. We are also concerned by reports of the deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure.

“As we call for de-escalation, we recognize Turkey’s legitimate security concerns,” said Ryder. “We will continue to discuss with Turkey and our local partners maintaining ceasefire arrangements.”

Analysts have said that Erdogan had stopped short of acting on his vow to invade because he hadn’t secured a green light from Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country has a large military presence in Syria.

It is less clear that Erdogan is worried about the opinion of its NATO ally, the United States.

The northern Syrian area targeted by Erdogan includes territories under the control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which has been backed by Washington in the fight against ISIS since 2014 but became the victim of betrayal when President Donald Trump pulled US troops out of the region in 2019.

According to former national security adviser John Bolton, Trump is actually anti-Kurdish and dislikes a minority group in the Middle East that has been consistently pro-American.

“President Donald J. Trump’s decision to redeploy U.S. forces from the Syrian-Turkish border, if not to withdraw the majority of U.S. troops from Syria altogether, constitutes a shameful betrayal of America’s Kurdish partners in the fight against ISIS and a needlessly self-inflicted wound to U.S. interests,” said Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Indeed the images of U.S. withdrawal are feeding ISIS, Iranian and Russian propaganda mills.”

Although President Joe Biden is certain to view Kurds as human beings and American allies, their survival is not likely among the White House’s top priorities and if it comes, the crisis will form at the same time as other deadly conflicts rage on.

The results of the midterm elections will usher in more political instability in the United States, which might profoundly affect American foreign policy because Biden may encounter problems with neo-Nazi isolationists such as Rep. Marjories Taylor Greene, who has outsized influence in the new House majority.

Having just spent an election cycle warning that democracy was on the ballot, Biden recently headed overseas to rally the fight for democracy at the G-20 in Indonesia, where he pushed Europe to hold firm with Ukraine against Russia and tried to tackle the global challenges of inflation and climate change.

David Eubank, the American founder of the Free Burma Rangers, a volunteer group that assists civilians in conflict zones, came out of northeast Syria, where he witnessed the devastation wreaked by Turkey’s latest airstrikes.

“Turkish airstrikes killed over 40 people across north and east Syria on 20 November 2022. The airstrikes started around midnight on November 20th, with Turkish jet fighters conducting over 20 airstrikes across northern Syria,” said Eubank. “One of these attacks killed 11 villagers, at Takl Bukl, near Derek in northeast Syria. The city of Kobane was attacked most heavily, while other strikes hit Derek/al-Malikiyah, al-Darbasiya, Zarkan, Abu Racin, Tal Rifa’at, and the areas of al-Shahba’a west of Aleppo.”

Eubank, a former Army Ranger and U.S. Special Forces officer, said that the sense among Kurds of betrayal by the United States is even deeper than when President Donald Trump gave Turkey the green light to invade large chunks of northeast Syria in 2019.

Although Putin’s forces appear to be in retreat and the winter could force Russia to cuts its losses, some Republicans are strongly against spending American money in Ukraine.

Following Biden’s meeting with the leader of the world’s other superpower, Xi Jinping, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the communist chief “stressed that the Taiwan question is at the very core of China’s core interests, the bedrock of the political foundation of China-U.S. relations, and the first red line that must not be crossed in China-U.S. relations.”

“Anyone that seeks to split Taiwan from China will be violating the fundamental interests of the Chinese nation; the Chinese people will absolutely not let that happen! We hope to see, and are all along committed to, peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, but cross-Strait peace and stability and ‘Taiwan independence’ are as irreconcilable as water and fire,” according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The potential for military action or any effort by China to reclaim control in Taiwan is a dangerous thorn for the United States.

The anti-regime protests in Iran — triggered by the death in police custody of the 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini — are now in their third month. More than 400 protesters have been killed since then; at least another 15,000 have been arrested. Iran is aching for change. The streets are filled with those who are willing to risk losing everything for their freedom.

That the unrest continues is itself a remarkable tribute to those overwhelmingly young Iranians who refuse to back down in the face of brutal violence from the regime. Western leaders have been slow to acknowledge the full significance and depth of what has been happening inside Iran — not least because of their fixation on persuading the regime to agree to a deal on Tehran’s nuclear program.

While there are welcome signs of change, potential uprisings in Iran, China or anywhere else also bring possibilities for unexpected consequences.

Nations around the world value and respect the rules-based international order and are willing to sacrifice for it, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said at the end of an international trip to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ defense ministers meeting in Cambodia.

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