Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been a staunch adversary of Kurdish political and military developments in northern Syria (Rojava in Kurdish) since 2014. For Erdogan, a successful Kurdish ruled northern Syria is a threat to not only his annexation ambitions of Syrian territory but also fears it will strengthen his own 20 million Kurdish population inside Turkey.
The Kurdish units are comprised of the YPG male fighters and YPJ women fighters, both organized under the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by the United States. Although majority Kurdish, the SDF includes local minorities fighters as well, including Arabs. The United States views the SDF as the only reliable entity that is organized and able to completely defeat what remains of the Islamic State (IS), hold its territory against Iranian expansion into northern Syria, and prevent Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad from regaining lost territory since the 2011 protests began.
Erdogan labels The Kurds as terrorists despite that his government has sided with not only IS, but different al Qaeda affiliate groups throughout the Syrian war. He’s threatened to “strangle” and “bury” any Kurdish ruled region including its allies, United States troops which number over 2,000.
Erdogan has recently built up Turkish troop presence with heavy weaponry along the borders of the region of Afrin, threatening to take it over within a week’s times. He recently stated, “if the terrorists (Kurds) in Afrin do not surrender, we will destroy it.” However, Erdogan undermines the capability of the Kurdish fighters who have defeated IS with light weapons, but now that they have heavy US arms, does he think he has a chance? The ruling Kurdish party in Rojava, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) stated that “all cities and villages in Rojava and the north of Syria are ready to stand together to defend themselves.”
Erdogan’s only advantage in Afrin is his air force, but this is an issue, Assad is against any usage of Syrian airspace by Turkey. This means Erdogan would have to convince the Russians to push the Syrian regime to allow the Turks to strike the Kurds from the air. This is unlikely, Assad would rather have a Kurdish presence than a Turkish one.
Turkish ambitions in Syria is a losing situation both short and long term, if Erdogan’s goal is to remove Kurds from ruling the region- he will most likely lose. Turkey will gain nothing from the advance into Afrin and is not welcomed by civilians, religious and ethnic minorities, the US, Russia and the Assad regime. Erdogan will lose in Syria, but may gain support within Turkey, attempting to please his ultra-nationalist voters whom are unwaveringly anti-Kurdish.