Turkey seems to have begun an operation against U.S.-backed Kurds in northern Syria. Turkey has said the Kurdish militias are part of a terrorist group that threatens its national security. But it has failed to win backing for a military operation against the group from the international community. Syria has threatened to shoot down any Turkish planes that take part in an assault on the region.
Many Turkey-watchers say the assault is almost entirely about domestic politics. Turkey has complained for months about U.S. support for Syrian Kurds. The area under assault is Afrin, Syria, which has been controlled indirectly by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has been involved in an insurgency against Turkey for nearly three decades. The Kurdish threat is seen as real, but the Turkish government is said to be acting to placate nationalist hard-liners at home.
U.S. officials warned against the operation, saying that, in Syria, ISIS should remain the priority. The U.S. has said this week that its goals in Syria are to defeat ISIS and other terrorist organizations so as to create the conditions necessary for a change of government in Syria. Any talk of regime change has been vigorously opposed by Russia, Syria’s main ally.