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The Syrian quagmire

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News Analysis |

The world was horrified yet again by gruesome images of Syrian children being torn to shreds by indiscriminate shelling and international media seems to have focused once again on the tragedy that is Syria. The conflict has intensified after Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch in the Kurdish-controlled Afrin district in Northern Syria. The operation began as Ankara fears the formation of a Kurdish corridor along its border. The war in Syria has raged on since 2011 and has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians, with nearly half the country’s population displaced.

The recent Turkish ground and air offensive has widespread implications for Syria and for what has become a terminally unstable region. At the frontline in Northern Syria, the US and Turkey are heading into a tense face-off. A general in the US army commanding the coalition said, “You hit us, we will respond aggressively. We will defend ourselves.” Kurdish forces in Northern Syria have also called on US support to do more to stop Turkish operations in Syria. Meanwhile, Ankara shows no sign of halting the operation.

Statements of condemnations are issued as leaders around the world pay lip service to the idea of guaranteeing the rights of civilians in a military conflict. As the UN Secretary-General Anonio Guterres put it, Syria is hell on earth. And each player in the conflict is playing its part in making sure it stays that way.

Despite suffering some heavy losses last thursday, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) in Syria are ready to launch a new phase in the military operation in the Kurdish enclave of Afrin. In practice, Turkish forces are continuing their attacks on the Kurds while US warnings are ignored. Although Erdogan has publicly called Vladimir Putin his ‘dear friend’, the geopolitical interests of Ankara and Moscow in Syria constitute a zero-sum game.

Read more: US urges UN to investigate chemical weapons in Syria

Ankara views the Kurds as a threat and fears that Kurdish consolidation of territory in Northern Syria is likely to invigorate separatist Kurdish militants or the PKK within its borders. The PKK is a designated terrorist group by Turkey, the US and other key allies of Turkey. Russia, on the other hand, has come to be seen as a friend to the Kurds. Moscow has firmly aligned itself with the YPG and the SDF. Consequently, Russian troops have stationed themselves in Afrin as part of agreement to protect the YPG from Turkish attacks. As part of the agreement, a Russian military installation will be established in Afrin canton area.

Iran is another key player in the conflict. Many believe that without Tehran’s help, the regime in Syria would likely have collapsed. A statement made by Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi released by the state news agency in Iran, the Iranian Republic News Agency, said, “Turkey should stop its operation and respect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” “Turkish actions can bring back instability, insecurity and terrorism in Syria,” Qasemi further added.

Iranian backed militias have been cobbling up territory while pushing back ISIS and have helped Bashar’s forces regain control of territory around Damascus. France and the United Kingdom have also supported the ouster of the Assad regime in Syria. It is not surprising that there has been no condemnation of the Turkish offensive by London. A statement released by the prime minister office said, “We are closely following developments in Afrin in northwestern Syria.” The statement further reiterated that the UK recognizes Turkish interests in maintaining the security of its borders.

There have been several meetings at the UN, several rounds of talk between opposing factions in Syria but to no avail. As things stand, the situation is set to get worse as each state considers its own interests in how to leverage its position vis-à-vis the security vacuum in war-torn nation.

Separately, the British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said in a tweet,” Turkey is right to want to keep its borders secure.” On the other hand, France called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council after Operation Olive Branch was launched.

Read more: Pentagon Chief Statement hints division of Syria

Saudi Arabia has longed supported proxies against Bashar-al-Assad’s force. Riyadh sees no role for Bashar-al-Assad in Syria after the war and has called for a transition period that allows for his removal. Last year, a joint press conference was held by Turkey and Saudi Arabia where Erdogan discussed his country’s ongoing military operations in Syria with King Salman bin Abdul Aziz. Saudi Arabia has no interest in opposing Operation Olive Branch in Syria and has not done so.

It is against the backdrop of all these positions taken by key players in the conflict that innocent men, women and children are getting bombarded by forces from all sides, with each side blaming the other for collateral damage and loss of civilian life. According to UNICEF, one in three children in Syria has grown up only knowing conflict and war.

There have been several meetings at the UN, several rounds of talk between opposing factions in Syria but to no avail. As things stand, the situation is set to get worse as each state considers its own interests in how to leverage its position vis-à-vis the security vacuum in war-torn nation. Statements of condemnations are issued as leaders around the world pay lip service to the idea of guaranteeing the rights of civilians in a military conflict. As the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres put it, Syria is hell on earth. And each player in the conflict is playing its part in making sure it stays that way.


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