The Syrian-Turkish-Kurdish Clusterfuck

Turkey launched airstrikes yesterday – not against ISIS, but against Kurdish insurgents in southeast Turkey:

Turkish news reports said the strikes had been aimed at fighters of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, known as the P.K.K., and were in retaliation for the shelling of a Turkish military base. Such airstrikes were once common, as Turkey fought a Kurdish insurgency in a conflict that claimed almost 40,000 lives over nearly three decades. But hostilities essentially ceased two years ago when the peace process began, and both the Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah and an online statement from the P.K.K. said the airstrikes on Monday were the first since then. The Turkish military also released a statement, but it did not mention airstrikes specifically, only an exchange of fire with “terrorists.”

Authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan are now pressing Ankara to let their fellow Kurds cross the border to help defend the Syrian town of Kobani, which remains under siege from ISIS:

Speaking on a visit to RFE/RL in Prague on October 13, Falah Mustafa, the foreign minister of the Kurdish regional government (KRG), said Ankara should heed calls from the international community to help the city, which has been under siege for almost four weeks.

“It’s a moral responsibility for all of us to move in order to help the besieged [city of] Kobani,” Mustafa said. “We hope that there would be an understanding by Turkey to the calls from the international community and to the needs of these people who have proven to be bravely fighting the terrorists throughout this period, from the day they have been besieged.” He said Ankara should establish a corridor between its border checkpoint of Mursitpinar and Kobani, whose northern edge is less than a kilometer from the Turkish frontier.

Today and yesterday, ISIS positions in Kobani and elsewhere in Syria came under heavy attack from US planes:

Centcom said the 21 strikes in and around Kobani destroyed two of the group’s staging locations and damaged another, destroyed one an ISIS-held building and damaged two others, damaged three ISIS-held compounds, destroyed one ISIS truck, and destroyed one ISIS armed vehicle and another ISIS vehicle. The US military also struck an additional seven ISIS staging areas, two ISIS mortar positions, three ISIS occupied buildings, and an ISIS artillery storage facility. Centcom said early indications were that these strikes were “successful.” Separately, the US military conducted an additional strike on an ISIS-held oil refinery near Dayr az Zawr. Centcom said this strike was also successful.

But the jihadists are apparently making gains in Iraq:

“The militants, they now control 80% of Anbar province,” said Faleh al-Issawi, a local politician from Anbar, detailing weeks of miserable performance on behalf of the Iraqi military. Government forces, he says, are constantly on the back foot, rarely launching offensives to regain territory. Outgunned and beleaguered, he says, Iraqi army units in Anbar are beginning to collapse. “We are renewing our call for American or International troops to come to Anbar province and begin ground operations,” he said, expressing a policy desire completely at odds with that of the central government.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is claiming that Turkey has agreed to allow US warplanes carry out strikes from its bases, but Turkish officials won’t confirm that:

[National Security Advisor Susan] Rice said Ankara had joined Saudi Arabia in agreeing to allow its bases for training moderate Syrian opposition forces and had agreed that “facilities inside Turkey can be used by the coalition forces, American and otherwise, to engage in activities inside of Iraq and Syria.” Incirlik Air Base, located about 50 kilometers inland from the Mediterranean Sea in southern Turkey, is home to the U.S. Air Force’s 39th Air Base Wing and about 1,500 American military personnel and is key to protecting NATO’s southern flank.

On Monday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu denied there was such an agreement on bases, according to state-run Anadolu Agency. “There is no decision at the moment concerning Incirlik or any other issue,” the agency quoted Cavusoglu as saying[.]

Meanwhile, Jamie Dettmer is dismayed at the anti-Western rhetoric Turkish President Erdogan whipped out in a speech yesterday:

About T.E. Lawrence—who is still viewed as a hero in the West and by many Arabs—the Turkish President showed nothing but disdain, then used Lawrence as a vehicle to heap opprobrium on others. Erdoğan dismissed the British officer as “an English spy disguised as an Arab.” And he told the university audience—the speech was televised—that Westerners are “making Sykes-Picot agreements hiding behind freedom of press, a war of independence or jihad.”

Erdoğan argued there are modern-day Lawrences in Turkey right now “disguised as journalists, religious men, writers and terrorists.” And the remark was especially ominous on the day five foreign journalists—three of them German—were hauled before a court for a preliminary hearing in the southeastern Turkey of Diyarbakır, following their arrests at the weekend by anti-terrorist police.

Marc Champion believes Erdogan has miscalculated:

Erdogan appears to believe he can squeeze the PKK and its affiliate in Syria, while negotiating a settlement with Turkey’s Kurdish community. If so, he would be underestimating how quickly a massacre in Kobani could push events beyond his control. Erdogan is a formidable politician and never to be underestimated, yet I suspect he is making a big mistake for Turkey.

That’s because only one of the two very risky paths for Erdogan has a chance of a positive outcome. The Turkish leader has a real prospect of building a long-term alliance with the Kurds and creating a stable buffer against the chaos of the Middle East, partly because he has already done a lot to repair relations with Kurds in Iraq and Turkey in recent years. Islamic State, however, can offer nothing but instability and fear.

Michael Crowley returns to our other big problem in Syria – Assad, with whom Erdogan and the Syrian rebels would like us to go to war as well:

Obama may find it increasingly difficult to battle ISIS without coming into conflict with Assad’s forces. “Sooner or later the linkage is going to be forced,” said Paul Salem, vice president of the Middle East Institute. Salem wonders how Obama would react if American-trained rebels come under aerial bombardment by Assad’s air force: Would U.S. forces pounding ISIS targets elsewhere in the country refuse to intervene? (That would hardly inspire goodwill among the rebels.) How should the U.S. respond [if] Assad’s forces move to claim territory cleared by ISIS after coalition attacks? And will Obama tolerate Assad’s infamously brutal attacks on civilian populations now that U.S. fighter-bombers are mere minutes away from the scene of such crimes?

Larison sure hopes we don’t take the bait:

It is unreasonable to expect anti-regime forces to do Washington’s bidding against other enemies of the regime when their overriding concern is to fight regime forces. However, that isn’t an argument for doing what the rebels want. It draws our attention back to why the war has been misguided and unlikely to succeed from the start, especially once it expanded into Syria. If both Turkey and the “moderate” opposition refuse to cooperate unless the U.S. attacks the Syrian government, that tells us that the war against ISIS cannot be fought effectively at an acceptable cost. That should be a clear warning to the administration to stop now before it gets in any deeper. Warring against both sides in the same civil war not only appears absurd, but it greatly increases the chances of costly failure.

Max Fisher, on the other hand, asserts that an alliance with Assad is the only logical outcome of Obama’s Syria policy:

Obama doesn’t want to build up the rebels enough to defeat ISIS, he doesn’t want to invade and occupy Syria (rightly), and he doesn’t trust Turkey enough to sponsor a Turkish invasion. With those options off the table, only Assad is left as someone who is able to re-conquer ISIS-held territory and occupy it for many years, which is what it would take to end the ISIS threat. So it looks increasingly likely that Obama will come to view Assad as his only real option if he wants to defeat ISIS.