Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced the commencement of “Operation Peace Spring,” a military incursion by the Turkish armed forces into northern Syria. The target of the offensive, according to Erdogan, are “terrorists” from the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is comprised of Turkish Kurds fighting for independence from Turkey, and Syrian Kurds from the YPG, or People’s Protection Units. Erdogan is also pledging to combat residual ISIS elements.
The Turkish move comes with an ostensible green light from President Trump, who cleared the way for the Turkish action by precipitously ordering the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the area.
Trump’s actions have been widely condemned as a betrayal of the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, an American-trained and -equipped force of Syrian Kurds who played a lead role in the fight against ISIS in Syria, suffering thousands of casualties in the process. That Turkey, an American NATO ally, is waging war against the SDF (which the Turks label as YPG/PKK—more on that later), while at the same time targeting ISIS, the archenemy of the all these Kurdish groups, underscores the complexity of the regional politics at play in northern Syria today. Deciphering this alphabet soup goes a long way towards explaining why the Turkish actions are justified and why President Trump will ultimately be vindicated for pulling the troops out.
Truly understanding the complex history of the Kurds in the Middle East would require several Ph.D.’s worth of research, and even then questions would remain. My own opinions are, in large part, shaped by personal experience. When I was in high school, my father was assigned to the Joint U.S. Military Mission for Aid to Turkey, or JUSMMAT. My family accompanied him, and we settled in the Turkish capital of Ankara. One of the perks of this assignment was a very active Rod and Gun club, which my father and I took full advantage of. The Ankara club had a long-standing relationship with a Kurdish tribal leader named Reshad Bey, who would organize excursions into central Anatolia where we would hunt on lands owned by Kurdish villagers.