A column of Turkish tanks supporting an army of Syrian Sunni opposition fighters entered northeastern Syria last Thurs. They were aiming to capture the Syrian border town of Jarabulus that has been occupied by Islamic State forces for several years. Pres. Erdogan declared that IS must be defeated and removed from Syria.
But, he also stated that all terrorists must be removed and by this he included the Kurdish forces of the Pesh Merga and the YPG, that are both anti-IS and anti-Assad, and many think that these are his real targets. The YPG is of Syrian Kurdish origin and has been responsible for protecting the northeastern Kurdish enclave of Rojava. In fact this Turkish move was probably initiated in response to a Kurdish move against the nearby Syrian city of Manbij, that has also been under IS control and has partly fallen to the Kurdish forces. Erdogan did not want a successful Kurdish fighting force to effectively control the Turkish border region. He regards all Kurdish forces as aligned with the PKK, the Turkish Kurdish Worker’s Party that has been fighting against the Turkish forces for many years.
What should the West make of this Turkish incursion? Should it be supported because it is anti-IS or should it be opposed because it is anti-Kurdish? This is especially confusing since the Kurds are clearly aligned with the West and are supported by the US, with both arms and special US forces on the ground. The Kurdish forces have US air support, but the Turkish forces have Turkish air support and both the US and Turkey are members of NATO. At the same time the air forces of both the Syrian Assad regime and the Russians are attacking IS and the Kurds. This is too complex to even understand.
This situation is of course only a small part of the basic Syrian Civil War that has been going on for over 5 years, that pits the Syrian Assad regime with its Shia support from Iran (the Iranian Revolutionary Guards) and Hizbollah (from Lebanon) against many insurgent Sunni groups that include about 30 distinct local militias and religious parties of various extremes, from the Democratic opposition with their Free Syrian Army to al Qaeda affiliates and the IS. Overall these forces control a patchwork of Syria that amounts to: Assad regime (about 20%), Sunni opposition forces (20%), IS (40% but decreasing), and Kurds (20%). Whether Turkey will seek to take and control territory in Syria and whether they will actually go into battle against the Kurdish Pesh Merga and YPG forces remains to be seen.
Meanwhile the Syrian Civil War grinds on. In Aleppo up to 300,000 people and maybe many more are trapped in a destroyed city, where they are subject to Russian air attacks and Syrian air force barrel bombs that kill many civilians indiscriminately. US Secty of State Kerry and Russian FM Lavrov are meeting now in Genvea to try to arrange a 48 hr ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid to Aleppo. The UN special envoy for Syria just resigned out of frustration over the continuing carnage and said that it was the lack of willpower in the West that had resulted in the terrible deterioration in Syria. By this he meant the lack of action of the US Obama Administration when it failed to act against Assad on many occasions and allowed not only the Russians, but also the Iranians, to fill the power vacuum and become involved in the fighting that has destroyed Syria.