Kurdish fighters
Kurdish fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces in Hukumya, Syria, on October 11, 2017. Image Credit: The New York Times

The nine-year-old war in Syria is a tragedy of our times. The war has left more than 400,000 dead, with up to 200,000 unaccounted for. Most of these unfortunate souls have disappeared into the torture chambers of the regime. The entry of religious extremists into the fray, from all over the world, has added another grisly dimension to the conflict.

Now, another potentially massive front looks set to be opening. With a tweet on Monday, President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of US troops from Turkey’s border with Syria, following a phone call with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Turkish leader has repeatedly threatened to attack Kurdish militants in northern Syria due to their ties with separatists in Turkey. Ankara now says its preparations for an offensive have been completed.

Trump seems have given carte blanche to Turkey as the fulfilment of a campaign promise to withdraw from the “endless wars” in the Middle East. But Trump’s decision shocked even some of his closest Republican backers who described the move as a betrayal of America’s Kurdish allies who lost thousands of fighters in their battle against Daesh. In apparent alarm at the scale of Republican anger, Trump said he would obliterate Turkey’s economy if it took “off limits” actions

Turkey is essentially threatening to invade Syria. This makes a mockery of the territorial integrity of the Arab state.

- Gulf News

Apparently, Ankara plans to kill two birds with one stone. One the one hand, it believes a military action will help clear the border of what it considers Kurdish terrorist elements; on the other, it also plans to move a million Syrian refugees into the so-called safe zone, thereby creating a Syrian Arab buffer zone between the Kurds of Syria and the Kurds in south-east Turkey.

The main Kurdish militia, the Syrian Democratic Forces, is now on its own. Bitter at what it sees as US betrayal, it has warned that any Turkish military action could reverse years of successful Kurdish-led operations to defeat Daesh. The SDF has an interest in magnifying the Daesh threat to attract foreign support, but analysts believe that in the event of a Turkish invasion, the SDF will have to redirect its resources away from guarding the tens of thousands of Daesh suspects in its custody.

At its core, the issue at hand is one of sovereignty. Turkey is essentially threatening to invade Syria. This makes a mockery of the territorial integrity of the Arab state. And this is alarming.