Recent reports detail a Turkish military buildup on the Turkish-Syrian border with various accounts mentioning the deployment of troops, tanks, armored personnel carriers and missile batteries two kilometers from Syrian territory, with 25 tanks from the Mardin 70th Mechanized Brigade engaged in exercises along the border.
The Turkish rationale for the military escalation is that forces of the Democratic Union Party, an ethnic Kurdish group that Ankara accuses of being affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party, have assumed control of the Syrian cities of Efrin (Afrin), Kobane and Amude (Amuda) near southeastern Turkey.
The secular, left-wing Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has been struggling for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey since 1978 and is labeled a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union.
The Turkish government has been waging a counterinsurgency war against the PKK for 28 years in Turkey, and over the past decade in northern Iraq, with the active support of the Pentagon and NATO. In fact, the campaign against Kurdish opposition groups is another, unacknowledged, American and NATO war, one to be added to a growing list that includes Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya and now Syria.
In recent years, for example, NATO and the Pentagon’s European Command and Central Command have become increasingly involved in supporting Turkish military attacks against the PKK and other Kurdish groups in Turkey and Iraq. (Turkey is in European Command’s area of responsibility; Iraq is in Central Command’s.)
In September of 2005 the joint top commander of U.S. European Command and NATO at the time, Marine General James Jones (later the Barack Obama administration’s first national security advisor), met with members of the Turkish general staff and signed a memorandum of understanding for a NATO counterterrorism center in Turkey.
His comments at the time included these:
“We discussed specific Turkish concerns, obviously, with regard to the PKK.
“Turkey is ideally suited to host the Center of Excellence-Defense Against Terrorism. Turkey has the second largest armed forces in NATO, is strategically located, and has over 30 years [of] experience combating terrorism.”
The NATO Centre of Excellence Defence Against Terrorism had been inaugurated in Turkey on June 28, 2005.
In July of 2006 the Turkish head of state, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, called on NATO to openly join the anti-PKK counterinsurgency war, stating:
“NATO, which joined in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan, should also do the same here.
“It would be good to make tripartite efforts (Turkey, NATO and the US) and to get some results.”
The following month his request was partially realized when the U.S. appointed former top NATO and European Command commander Joseph Ralston as Special Envoy for Countering the Kurdistan Workers Party, which position he still holds.
Operational and logistical support rendered the Turkish armed forces in their decades-long war against the PKK and affiliated groups has not been limited to Turkey itself.
Ankara has been conducting regular large-scale incursions and deadly airstrikes in Iraq as well. As the latter nation was occupied by the military forces of the U.S., Britain and the Multi-National Force –” Iraq (which consisted overwhelmingly of NATO members, candidates and partners) from 2003 until the end of last year, Turkish attacks inside the country could only have been launched with the knowledge – and the authorization and cooperation – of the U.S. and NATO.
Turkey’s military campaign in northern Iraq, a gross violation of the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country, is an accurate model – and predictor – of what it could perpetrate in neighboring Syria.
To gain an appreciation of the scope of what such an operation could entail, in April of 2006 Turkey deployed 40,000 troops near the Iraqi border, joining as many as 250,000 soldiers already deployed in southeast Turkey.
Ankara has since then conducted ongoing air, artillery and ground attacks inside Iraq.
After a year-long hiatus, Turkey resumed air strikes inside the Arab nation last September following a PKK attack that killed nine Turkish soldiers the month before. By the 21st of the month the Turkish general staff announced that government F-16 fighter jets had destroyed 152 targets in the Qandil Mountains inside Iraq.
State Department spokeswoman (and former ambassador to NATO) Victoria Nuland said of the offensive:
“Hope springs eternal. You know where we are on the PKK. We believe that Turkey has a right to defend itself, that the PKK is a terrorist organization, and we continue to urge and try to facilitate good dialogue between Turkey and Iraq.”
That is, the Iraqi government must accept armed attacks within its territory by America’s NATO ally.
Last October 15,000 elite Turkish forces gathered on the border with Iraq to launch ground operations against Kurdish targets. On the 24th Turkish tanks and armored vehicles, backed by air strikes, crossed into northern Iraq.
The following month the Obama administration promised Prime Minister Erdogan to redeploy U.S. Predator drones from Iraq to Turkey for the anti-Kurdish campaign. At the time Radio Free Europe reported that “The drones are seen by Ankara as a decisive weapon in its battle against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the Kurdish rebel group.”
In fact, a Turkish newspaper revealed that the U.S. had deployed four Predator drones at the Incirlik Air Base in late October, the same base where the Pentagon has an estimated 90 B61 nuclear bombs.
Turkey has also requested that the U.S. sell it more advanced Reaper drones, to replace Israeli Herons, for use against the PKK.
Radio Free Europe also stated that “Obama is rewarding Turkey for its support in the region, in particular, its decision to participate in NATO’s anti-missile system, which Washington says is aimed at countering threats from rogue states including Iran.”
At the same time, the Pentagon confirmed that it had notified Congress of the proposed sale of three AH-1 SuperCobra attack helicopters to Turkey, with a Defense Department press release stating they “will improve Turkey’s capability for self-defense, modernization, regional security, and interoperability with U.S. and other NATO members.”
Last December U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden met with Turkish President Abdullah Gul in Ankara and Gul, speaking for both countries, affirmed, “Our fight against [the] PKK will continue in a strong way.”
Two weeks later Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was in Turkey to solicit its assistance in policing Iraq after the departure of American ground troops, and in reference to Russian and Iranian objections to Turkey’s hosting of a NATO interceptor missile radar system, he said, “whether they like it or not, other countries are going to have to accept that.” He also pledged continued, indeed intensified, U.S. involvement in the war against the PKK, saying:
“We provide some technology and assistance in the fight against the PKK. We try to improve in that capacity and continue to explore other steps.”
The Predators operating out of the Incirlik Air Base are maintained by an American ground control unit and operated from the Creech Air Force Base in Nevada.
At the end of the December, a Turkish air strike killed 35 civilians, the oldest of whom was 20, in a Kurdish village near the border with Iraq, the largest amount of Kurdish civilians killed by Turkish forces in one day in Ankara’s 28-year counterinsurgency campaign. The victims had been identified – hence targeted – by a drone.
The Turkish military has continued drone-aided air strikes in Iraq this year.
It is patently obvious that Turkey is on the verge of repeating its Iraq policy in Syria. Unlike Iraq, though, air strikes and incursions by troops and armored vehicles in Syria will meet with a different response than they have in Iraq. That is, they will meet with a response.
As did the Turkish F-4 fighter jet that flew over Syrian territory and was shot down in June, leading to Turkey seeking NATO assistance under Article 4 provisions.
The first Turkish warplane that drops a bomb or fires a missile on Syrian territory will provoke a reaction far more severe than the violation of Syrian airspace in June.
With the “humanitarian intervention” and “weapons of mass destruction” ploys not having succeeded in provoking a war between Turkey – and through Turkey NATO – and Syria, exploiting the Kurdish “terrorist” subterfuge may be the next, perhaps at last successful, attempt to do so.