Turkey Asks for Understanding After US Warning Against Syria Incursion
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar (R) meets US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (L) at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on March 16, 2022. (Arif Akdogan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Turkey Asks for Understanding After US Warning Against Syria Incursion

Erdoğan has suggested a ground operation to combat Kurdish militants following airstrikes

Turkey has told Washington that it should “understand” its NATO ally over a possible land operation into northern Syria to combat Kurdish forces after the US warned against such a move.

“They asked us to reevaluate. We also explained our sensitivities and wanted the promises to be kept. We stressed that they should understand us,” said Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar on Thursday, according to the Turkish state news agency.

That came after talks by phone on Wednesday with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who said he had raised concerns over a possible incursion to combat the US-allied People’s Defense Units (YPG) in Syria.

“I also shared my concern over Turkish strikes in Syria, and the Department’s strong opposition to a new Turkish military operation there,” Austin tweeted.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has renewed the prospect of a ground operation after first suggesting it in the spring.

Aydin Sezer, an Ankara-based foreign policy analyst, told The Media Line that Erdoğan may use the US’s opposition as a campaign tool in next year’s elections to whip up support from his nationalist base, much of which is highly skeptical of the West.

“It works very well in domestic politics during election time,” Sezer said.

He did not believe that the incursion would otherwise impact relations with Washington because they are already at a low point on several other subjects.

One of the most significant is the US’s backing of the YPG, which Ankara insists is connected to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, a militant group that has launched a decadeslong insurgency.

Talk of an incursion increased following a bombing last month on Istanbul’s main shopping street, which left six dead including two children.

Hours after the explosion, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu blamed the PKK for the attack.

Sezer added that Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar Assad, is hoping to exploit the differences between Ankara and Washington in Syria and decrease the US’s presence in the country.

Erdoğan will get what he wants because he needs a victory

“Any tension between Turkey and the United States will produce positive consequences for Russia,” he said.

“Russia, maybe, will pave the way to the Turkish troops.”

The incursion would come at a time of high stakes in Turkish politics with presidential and parliamentary elections due by June.

Polls consistently show the Turkish president behind several opposition leaders, although his approval rating has improved in recent months.

“Erdoğan will use it as a tool for domestic politics,” said Sezer.

“Erdoğan will get what he wants because he needs a victory.”

The US reaction and warning doesn’t mean anything for Erdoğan right now

Imdat Oner, a former Turkish diplomat, told The Media Line that a land operation will strain relations between the US and Turkey but eventually dialogue will resume.

“Definitely these two NATO countries can’t be in a conflict in such a chaotic region,” he said.

He added that Erdoğan will be looking to get concessions from the US because of the increased value of Turkey due to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“The US reaction and warning doesn’t mean anything for Erdoğan right now,” said Oner, who is currently a policy analyst at the Jack D. Gordon Institute at Florida International University.

Turkey has played a strategically important role in the war which has strengthened its hand against the US and Russia.

Ankara has supported Kyiv, such as by supplying drones that have been used successfully against the Russian military, as well as limiting the Russian Navy’s access to the Black Sea, on which Ukraine has a 1,700-mile coastline.

Ankara has also held up Sweden and Finland’s membership bids to join NATO.

Oner believes one concession Erdoğan would likely hope to get from the US is obtaining military equipment.

This Ukraine war changed all the political calculations

Ankara was kicked out of the US’s F-35 fighter jet program over the purchase of Russian weapons and is now looking to get other US jets instead, but that must get approval from Congress.

“This Ukraine war changed all the political calculations,” said Oner.

“Erdoğan is aware of this great leverage in front of both actors, and I think he wants to utilize it because an election is coming.”

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