Reports have emerged from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPD) and Turkish troops engaged in a cross-border skirmish resulting in the death of at least one Turkish soldier. Tensions have been running high after the Turkish army was reported to deploy tens of thousands of troops along the Syrian border in preparation for a ground incursion into the country.
The potential incursion comes in part as a response to the recent string of Kurdish military victories that has the group eyeing the possibility of linking previously separate Kurdish cantons into a contiguous Kurdish state. Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has previously warned that Turkey will “never allow” a Kurdish state on its border, with a report adding that “Ankara plans to establish a 110-km long and 28-km wide buffer zone stretching from Karkamış to Öncüpınar.”
If the Turkish incursion leads to serious Turkish-Kurdish fighting, it will likely put America in a thorny strategic situation. The Kurds are one of the few non-radicalized, non-Assad forces in Iraq and Syria that still has a decent shot of surviving the implosion of the Assad regime, and Turkey is a NATO ally that, unfortunately, seems to prefer ISIS win than the Kurds.
And at present, the Kurds appear to be beset on all sides: ISIS is reported to have regained the town of Ain Issa. Ain Issa was captured by Kurdish forces just two weeks ago, and was thought to be a major victory, gaining the Kurds a stronghold near the self-proclaimed caliphate’s capitol in Raqqa and disrupting ISIS’ supply lines.
As events move forward in Syrian Kurdistan, we strongly hope someone in D.C. has a plan, and is prepared to exert American influence to guide events. Washington passed up on a chance at the outset of the Syrian Civil War to back the true moderate opposition to Assad; the Kurds are one of the few relatively promising candidates among second-chance options that range from bad to worse. If we sit on the sidelines again, that’s exactly how our interests in the region will trend.