The looming Turkish offensive on northeastern Syria is the culmination of incoherent U.S. policy concerning the conflict in Syria, which has prioritized finding short-term fixes over attempting to address any of the dynamics driving the violence.
>> Election results are in. Subscribe now – save 30%
The scope of the Turkish invasion, made possible through the withdrawal of U.S. troops from parts of the border region, remains unclear. The offensive will likely precipitate mass displacement, and if the military action extends beyond the takeover of a few border towns, it could also result in demographic re-engineering, empower Iran and the Syrian regime, and deprive the United States of whatever leverage it had left in trying to shape the outcome of the civil war in Syria.
The Turkish operation is driven by fears of the growing strength of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the umbrella of militias that gained control of much of northeastern and eastern Syria owing to U.S. backing. The SDF is led by the Syrian Kurdish militia, the YPG (the People’s Protection Units, part of the Öcalanist-armed movement that has waged an insurgency against Turkey since the 1980s). According to the SDF, the force lost over11,000 fighters, men and women, in the campaign to liberate almost a third of Syria from ISIS control.
The outlines of the Turkish operation are unclear at this stage and hence the overall consequences are murky. Multiple fighters in the ranks of the Syrian factions that are set to participate in the offensive alongside Turkish forces told Haaretz that the scope of the operation will likely be limited to the capture of the town of Tel Abyad and possibly Ras al-Ayn.
Such an offensive is expected to involve the use of heavy artillery and lead to mass flight of the local population. The Syrian factions set to participate in the offensive, operating under the name the Syrian National Army, a Turkish creation, carried out large-scale looting in towns they have previously captured in northern Aleppo. This damage, however, will be nothing in comparison to what a deeper Turkish invasion would precipitate.