The nature of the conflict in Syria is changing shape again, with two important developments taking place over the past week. First, Turkey proposed cooperation with the United States in Afrin and Manbij, both of which are held by Syrian Kurds, whom the Turks consider hostile forces. Though no formal agreement has been reached, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said the U.S. would work with Turkey to coordinate their actions in Syria. Second, the Syrian Kurds appear to be willing to work with the Syrian regime against the Turkish assault on Afrin. Pro-regime forces reportedly entered Afrin on Feb. 20, a move that would require coordination with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which controls the region.
This graphic maps Turkish military operations taking place in Syria between 2016 and 2018. To find out more about Turkey’s security situation and its military operations in Syria, see Fabien Merz’s recent addition to our CSS Analyses in Security Policy series here. For more graphics on defense policy, see the CSS’ collection of graphs and charts on the subject here.
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.
The possible creation of a new geopolitical reality in the Middle East may have snuck under the radar this holiday weekend. The continuing spectacle of the investigations into Russia’s possible involvement in the 2016 Election and the continued naming and shaming of corporate leaders and politicians involved in sexual harassment (as well as Thanksgiving), may have overshadowed the summit in Sochi between the Presidents of Russia, Turkey, and Iran, shortly after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited President Putin in the same city (and thanked him for “saving Syria”).