Less than a week after Turkey began its invasion of Afrin – the northwestern pocket of Syria that borders Turkey and is controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG – NATO has voiced its consent of the operation. On a visit to Istanbul, NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller told a Turkish newspaper that NATO recognizes the threat terrorism poses to Turkey. While the language Gottemoeller used wasn’t highly specific, she was referring to the threat posed to Turkey by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, an internationally recognized terrorist group. Over the past three decades, the PKK has led an insurgency that has caused the deaths of roughly 40,000 people.
Major military exercises are never a simple routine but carry important political significance. This is the case with the recent Russian military manoeuvres of Zapad 2017, which took place in Belarus as well as in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad – bordering the territory of two NATO Baltic States – on 14-20 September. The exercise was closely monitored by European and US military and political elites and caused considerable concern in Poland and the Baltic states.
The recent statement by Turkish President Erdogan that Ankara had made an advance payment to Russia for the purchase of two S-400 air defense batteries, combined with Russia’s confirmation of this report, constitutes a significant development that adds to the question marks about Turkey’s future in NATO. This development also strengthens Russia’s standing in the Middle East, because it is another expression of the rapprochement between Moscow and Ankara. However, the Turkish-Russian rapprochement does not by itself reduce the leverage available to the West in its relations with Turkey, above all the defense relations in the context of NATO and the extensive trade between Turkey and the European Union. While many believe that Turkey will remain a NATO member for the foreseeable future, they note at the same time that Turkey is a problematic member of the alliance that is already suffering from quite a few internal tensions.
Politicians and military officers continue to insist the 2007 troop surge was a glorious success. It wasn’t.
The other day, I found myself flipping through old photos from my time in Iraq. One in particular from October 2006 stood out. I see my 23-year-old self, along with my platoon. We’re still at Camp Buerhing in Kuwait, posing in front of our squadron logo splashed across a huge concrete barrier.
It was a tradition by then, three and a half years after the invasion of neighboring Iraq, for every Army, Marine and even Air Force battalion at that camp to proudly paint its unit emblem on one of those large, ubiquitous barricades.
Gazing at that photo, it’s hard for me to believe that it was taken a decade ago.
Since inauguration, President Trump has signaled a strong commitment to the use of force – especially to secure U.S. interests in the Middle East and to protect against the threat of terrorism. In his inaugural address, Trump promised to eradicate Islamic terrorism “from the face of the earth” and he reiterated this policy objective during his speech to Congress last Tuesday. Yet the question remains – how will Trump use military operations to accomplish these objectives? Trump has at various times promised to “bomb the hell out of ISIS” and commit 20,000 to 30,000 troops to a ground campaign, all the while sending “very few troops” to the Middle East. Given these contradictory statements, it is difficult to discern a coherent military strategy. Will Trump keep the U.S. footprint small by relying – like Obama did – on drone strikes and arming partner militaries? Or will he be more willing to send U.S. ground troops to the Middle East?