As news emerged this week that the US would remove troops from embattled areas in Syria, Turkey announced its intention to institute military operations against Kurdish rebel groups within the region. Turkey’s incursions into Kurdish-held territories has already drawn ire from US President Donald Trump, who says that he will closely monitor the situation to determine whether economic sanctions against Turkey will be necessary to preserve peace within the region.
It is clear that officials in the upper echelons of US government agencies already take a dim view of Turkey’s intentions. As one of the key forces behind the defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Kurdish fighters have long held a reputation for bravely assisting American troops on the battlefield. Even stern critics of US foreign policy have suggested that Kurdish troops deserve American military backing.
Throughout the Iraq War, the Kurds remained one of the US’s staunchest allies in the Middle East, but their persecution under the brutal dictatorships of Mideast leaders like Saddam Hussein have already put the embattled people in a precarious situation with regard to area superpowers like Iran and Turkey. Long accustomed to fighting tooth-and-nail for their political independence, they may now be faced with an all-out guerrilla war with Turkish forces.
To say the least, the practicalities of an asymmetrical ground war with the Turks may be an intimidating prospect to Kurdish fighters. Already, Kurdish military groups are holding ISIS fighters captive in makeshift prisons. What exactly will happen to those ISIS members if Turkey launches a full-scale invasion into Syria is anyone’s guess, but it appears unlikely that Kurdish forces will be able to hold their prisoners of war indefinitely.
News about a potential rout of Kurdish fighters by the Turkish military comes on the heels of widespread skepticism regarding US military interventionism in the Middle East. Legitimate criticisms have been made by commentators on both sides of the issue; the notion of keeping US troops in countries such as Syria and Iraq is anathema to many US citizens, but others have argued that abandoning allies like the Kurds to Turkey puts vulnerable people in danger and the United States at a disadvantage in political negotiations.
If President Trump does make good on his promise to sanction Turkey over its attacks on Kurdish forces, the situation may have a chance to improve. Undoubtedly, Kurdish forces want nothing more than political independence within their historical homelands, and if that outcome could be achieved without bloodshed, many Kurds believe, so much the better.