Ankara insists that it has to eliminate PKK/YPG in Syria to protect its borders after repeatedly being disappointed by the unkept promises.
Ankara is getting ready to launch military operations along its southern borders to create “safe zones” in Syria, aiming to completely eliminate PKK’s Syrian offshoot YPG.
In its more than 35-year terror campaign against Türkiye, the PKK has been responsible for the deaths of at least 40,000 people, including dozens of civilians bombings in Istanbul and Ankara in 2016 alone. The group is listed as a terrorist organisation by Türkiye, the European Union and the United States.
But Türkiye’s relationship with its NATO ally, the US, has been a complicated one on Syria ever since former American President Barack Obama’s presidency despite the agreed designation of the PKK. Ankara says it’s frustrated with “unkept promises” by the US.
Russia, another key-player in the country ever since it began supporting Syrian leader Bashar al Assad in 2015 against opposition forces, also failed following up with its agreements with Ankara, Türkiye’s foreign ministry says.
"...both Russia and the US bear responsibility as they did not keep their promises," Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last year, referring to PKK’s attacks on Türkiye. "Since they are not keeping their promises, we will do what is necessary for our security," he said.
Here’s a look at some of Ankara’s main objections regarding American and Russian policy in Syria.
No YPG withdrawal from border
The YPG, which currently controls approximately one-third of Syria's territory with support from the US, often targets Azaz, Marea, al Bab, Jarablus, Afrin, Tel Abyad and Ras al Ain in northern Syria with heavy weapons.
Since 2016, Türkiye has launched a trio of anti-terror operations across its border in northern Syria to prevent the formation of a terror corridor and to enable the peaceful settlement of residents: Euphrates Shield in 2016, Olive Branch in 2018, and Peace Spring in 2019.
During the last operation in 2019, Ankara reached separate agreements with Washington and Moscow. Both countries pledged the withdrawal of the YPG 30 kilometres to the south of the Turkish border. More than two years into the agreements, there has been no action taken towards the withdrawal of the YPG.
Self-determination of Arabs
In 2014, when the then US president Obama decided to support the YPG, Washington argued that its support to the group was tactical to fight Daesh in the country. But Ankara objected the call, saying that using one terror group to fight another makes no sense.
In an attempt to legitimise its support to YPG, the US founded the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – a rebrand of YPG.
The US, meanwhile, promised self-determination of people in the areas that the Daesh were defeated. Instead, banners showing the imprisoned founder of PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, have replaced Daesh flags in the towns with a majorly Arab population, such as Tal Abyad, Manbij, and Raqqa.
The locals under control of YPG have been complaining that the new rulers have been forcibly conscripting the youth into the PKK army for a fight that they are not willing to participate in.
Since the beginning of the SDF/YPG's control of the cities and towns of northeastern Syria in 2017, they have launched forced recruitment of the region’s youth with the approval and support of the international coalition, under the cover of "forming an independent local military force to combat the threat of Daesh terrorism returning to the region”.
But YPG leaders openly sought to connect three northern Syria cantons into a single autonomous region bordering Türkiye. Ankara warns that the YPG expansion would renew the conflict at home.
The population under control of YPG has protested against the SDF rule. The locals’ protests last year turned violent when the YPG-dominated SDF militants shot dead eight Syrians in a bloody crackdown.
When the Trump administration armed the YPG for the Raqqa operation, which began in June 2017, it promised to collect the weapons afterward.
Sharply criticising the move, Türkiye warned that the weaponry that the US provided to the YPG for the fight against the Daesh is likely to end up to be directed at Türkiye and to consolidate power in the areas they captured from Daesh.
While announcing the US's withdrawal from Syria in 2019, the country’s former president Trump also said that the US “paid massive amounts of money and equipment” to support the YPG and won’t be doing so in the future.
But Türkiye has been stressing that the US not only failed to collect the weaponry it provided to the US after the defeat of Daesh, but also continued supporting the group in Syria.
According to the proposed United States Defense Department 2023 budget, a total of $183 million has been allocated for the training and equipment support fund for various groups in Syria, including the YPG/PKK terrorist group.