How Far Will The U.S. Go If Turkey Invades Syria?


The Government of Turkey has now put itself in a position whereby it must act rapidly and precipitously to avoid moving to an ultimately losing strategic position in the war against Syria, which could result in being forced back to fight a full-scale civil war to prevent the break-up of the State into at least two compo-nents, one being a new Kurdish state.

Turkey’s leadership, in insisting — in 2011-12 — on sponsoring a proxy war to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has already led to a refugee crisis of irreversible strategic damage to Europe, but Turkish Presisdent Reçep Tayyip Erdo?an, the Saudi Arabian military-political leadership, the U.S. Barack Obama administration, and the Qatari Emir now find themselves with nowhere to go except to escalate further in the hope that the Syrian revival, backed by Russia and Iran, will collapse.

Clear indications are emerging in Washington, DC, that the Pentagon is preparing to support a direct mili-tary invasion of Syria by Turkish Armed Forces, despite the Munich accord in the week ending February 13, 2016, which was meant to bring about a ceasefire in Syrian fighting. US officials have been actively en-gaged with those of Turkey and possibly Saudi Arabia in the preparations for ground force attacks on Kurd-ish military formations inside northern Syria, and U.S. Air Force Fairchild A-10 strike aircraft have deployed over northern Syrian territory in early February.

The planned intervention by Turkey (and possibly other powers, such as Saudi Arabia) is specifically not aimed at countering the activities of ISIS (asad-Dawlah al-Isl?m?yah f? al-‘Ir?q wash-Sh?m/Islamic State), but solely about countering the growing capability of Syrian- and Iraqi-based Kurdish fighters, and to offset the gains which Syrian Government forces, supported by Russian and Iranian/HizbAllah forces, made in and around Aleppo.

The prospect of yet another abandonment of the Kurds is causing considerable division within some U.S. military and intelligence circles, but the fiction is that the Turkish battle is with ISIS.

It is understood that the Turkish Government wishes to establish a cordon sanitaire inside Syria, along the Turkish border, to prevent the flow of Kurdish fighters from Syria into Turkey, where they are reportedly supporting the civil war which is now underway in the Kurdish areas of Turkey. General Adem Huduti, commander of the Second Turkish Army, based in Malatya, has primary ground force responsibility for the areas contiguous with Syria and Iraq, and was believed to be key to the operation, which could engage, initially, some 20,000 or so of the Second Army’s 100,000-man strength, supported by Turkish Army Avia-tion AH-64W helicopter gunships, and other airborne systems, and possibly Turkish Air Force fixed-wing ground attack support and fighter cover, to protect against Syrian and Russian Air Force fighters. At least two armored brigades, with modern main battle tanks, and two mechanized infantry brigades, would be deployed, based on current observations of forward deployments by the Second Army. They w
ould be sup-ported by self-propelled 15mm artillery.

The Obama Administration and the Government of Turkish President Erdo?an and Prime Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu appear to have calculated — probably correctly — that the Russian Government would not di-rectly interfere with the assault on Kurdish forces, the YPG [People’s Protection Units (Kurdish: Yekîneyên Parastina Gel)] in a move designed to split those forces, driving to a depth of some 25 miles inside Syria.

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Meanwhile, it should be expected that a number of false-flag attacks would be mounted by U.S. and Turk-ish operators to give the impression that the Turkish incursion would be responding to humanitarian con-cerns. Questions, then, should be raised by reports of attacks on February 14-15, 2016, by aircraft against civilian hospital targets in Aleppo. False-flag attacks (ie: purporting to be from one side, but in reality by another) have been used consistently by Islamist forces since the Sarajevo attacks (blamed on the Serbs) in the 1990s, and through later conflicts.

The proposed major military assault into Syria holds considerable risk for Turkey, not the least of that being a possible accidental escalation of hostilities with Russia, but it now seems unavoidable if Ankara is not to see a major disaster, not only wasting more than five years of intense effort to overthrow the Syrian Gov-ernment of President Bashar al-Assad, but also to avert the unfettered escalation of the Kurdish war to wrench a large part of Turkey away from Ankara to create a new Kurdish state which would link with Iraqi and Syrian Kurds. Already, Turkey has paid an enormous price in unanticipated consequences from its ef-fort to lead a coalition (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the U.S.) into overthrowing Assad.

The war has taken far longer than anticipated, and has cost Turkey all of its regional allies; it has also unit-ed the Kurds of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria into a desire to finally create their Kurdish state; it has generated a refugee flow from Syria and Iraq which is now beyond Ankara’s capacity to manage; and it has created a major rift between Turkey and the European Union, while costing Turkey most of its political support in Washington (except from the Obama White House and the State Dept.). Moreover, the escalation has led to the Russo-Turkish rift, in which Russian sanctions against Turkey are now starting to bite into an already fragile Turkish economy.

At the same time, the Iranian Government feels that Iranian vital strategic interests have been directly challenged by Ankara, and that while Iran had few options but to trade through Turkey during the period of international sanctions, it now — with sanctions being lifted — no longer has to hold back so much in de-fending its interests against Turkish depredation.

Senior levels of the U.S. Defense Dept., albeit impacted by consistent browbeating from the White House, have said repeatedly that there were no vital U.S. interests at stake which would warrant a major U.S. mili-tary intervention inside Syria, but no Defense official would countermand a direct order from the White House to undertake covert or support operations assisting the Turkish position. The White House and An-kara have been seeking triggers which would force the U.S. into a position where it would have to inter-vene directly.

Russia is unlikely to provide that casus belli, largely because of the 1936 Montreux Convention could give Turkey the right to close the Bosphorous transit link between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean to Rus-sian naval shipping in the event of a formal state of war between Turkey and Russia. Moscow has consist-ently refused to rise directly to Turkish military provocations. Rather, it has preferred to respond politically and economically.

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See: “The Russia-Turkey Stand-Off: Russia and Turkey: Not War in the Offing, But Some-thing Far More Important”, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, December 11, 2015; “Russia Weighs in to Support Kurds (and ‘Alawites), But Kurds Remain Wary”, in De-fense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, October 9, 2015; and “Break-up: The Medium-Term Prospect for Turkey, Saudi Arabia”, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, Oc-tober 8, 2015.

It has been obvious for some time to Russian, Kurdish, Iranian, and Syrian officials that Turkey would have to lash out to defend its position.

As a result, all of those states in confrontation with Turkey have had time to begin bolstering their defens-es in the area which Turkey intends to invade in Syria.

Moreover, the reality is that Turkey now places itself in the position, de facto, of declaring war on Syria. This has a significant new element and catalyst:

Turkey and its allies have been operating through a range of proxies, including ISIS, the al-Nusra Front, and so on to wage war on Syria. Thus, at least, Syrian forces would, in facing a conventional Turkish military invasion, legitimately be able to respond militarily, if they could gain the territorial foothold to do so. Thus the determination by Damascus and Moscow to regain as much territory in and around Aleppo as quickly as possible. This raises the question, however, of whether Turkey would use this as a pretext to attempt to engage NATO forces, or at least the forces of the US.

NATO as a whole has been resisting Turkish overtures to join the conflict, or to allow Turkey to cite “Article Five” of the North Atlantic Treaty, stating that an attack on a NATO member is an attack on all of the alli-ance.

But the Obama Administration, with less than a year to run on its term, is also throwing caution to the winds, and is empowered in this by the diversion of U.S. political attention on the November 2016 Presi-dential elections. President Obama hopes to move the U.S. into an irrevocable military action in Syria be-fore the Washington political establishment can warn him off it. And he might succeed. But to what end? This has become an ideological commitment for the White House. The engagement by U.S. President Wil-liam Clinton in fabricating a casus belli for intervention in Serbia in the 1990s provides a precedent, and there has for some time been a strong psychological campaign underway to sway Western public/political opinion on the necessity for armed intervention in Syria.

What, then, are the options open to the governments and forces seeking to oppose the Turkish military intervention, knowing that, at the very least, Turkish forces would be able — with their strong combined arms operations and advanced systems, supported by U.S. and Turkish command and control operations — to make swift and significant gains inside Syrian territory?

There are several factors. Firstly, Turkish forces should be expected to attempt more than one cross-border operation, in an attempt to divide Kurdish forces. Secondly, Kurdish forces themselves should be expected to respond with their own “diversionary” attacks behind Turkish lines, well inside Turkey, alt-hough Turkey has ample forces to deal with that in the initial stages.

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It must be assumed that the Kurdish forces would have already been reinforced with significant anti-tank capabilities. As the Turkish Army discovered when it moved into Iraqi Kurdistan on several occasions, it cannot expect to emerge unscathed from the operation. Moreover, Russian and Syrian forces will have utilized the available time to determine how best, for example, to cut or minimize Turkish abilities to re-supply its forces inside and around Aleppo, and Ankara may have to accept that to gain its cordon sanitaire it may also lose Aleppo back to the Syrian Government.

Moreover, while the cordon sanitaire may push Kurdish forces back from the Turkish border, this does not necessarily guarantee that Turkey can maintain its logistical lines with ISIS. The Russian destruction of the ISIS oil trade routes to Turkey may continue to erode the economic viability of the Islamic Caliphate, and cut into the revenues being earned from that trade by the Erdo?an family.

Whatever happens, the Russian economic sanctions against Turkey, coupled with the prospective loss of Iranian trade, the ongoing decline in energy transit revenues, and the now-determined and organized Kurd-ish bid for a new state to be carved out of Turkey mean that Ankara is grasping at straws to reverse its for-tunes. Little wonder that Washington has been increasing its pressures on Israel to restore relations with Turkey to supply gas from Israeli Mediterranean fields in the future, to compensate for the losses from Russian-controlled sources.

It is even possible that the U.S. may even seek a viable solution to the Turkish military occupation of the northern 37 percent of Cyprus since 1974 (unlike the Turkish-biased 2004 Annan Plan), in order to get Cy-prus — a strategic partner with Israel, Greece, and Egypt on the gas fields — to go along with the U.S. plan to get Mediterranean gas to Turkey to save it from the Russian sanctions.

By Gregory Copley via Defense and Foreign Affairs Special Analysis

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