David L. Phillips, Director of the Program on Peacebuilding and Human Rights at Columbia University and former Senior Adviser and Foreign Affairs Expert to the State Department during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations has written an article on 25 November calling for US President Joe Biden to condemn Turkey’s actions in North and East Syria.
Phillips begins his article for PoliTurco by outlining Turkey’s attacks on the region since 19 November. He notes that Turkey’s ‘reckless’ actions, apart from risking a regional conflagration, also ‘put US forces in harm’s way’, referring to the bombing of a US base on 22 November, ‘targeting Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) working with the US on counter-terrorism operations against ISIS’.
He quotes a message from Columbia University’s educational partner in the region who had been unable to sleep at night from the intensity of the drones bombing and felt trapped there, not having a car to get their family to safety.
‘I am dying here – left alone without any kind of help’.
Phillips notes Article 5 of the North Atlantic Charter which stipulates that an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all, and points out the irony that ‘It was never foreseen that a NATO member, Turkey in this instance, would shell troops from the United States.
The former Senior Adviser says that despite the fact that the US urges de-escalation in Syria, ‘the message is clearly not getting through’, and decries ‘prevaricating and moral equivalency during a time of crisis’.
“Senior US officials should publicly condemn Turkey’s aggression and offer a security guarantee to the SDF. We owe it to them for acting as America’s boots on the ground in Syria. More than 11,000 SDF fighters – mostly Kurds — were killed and 24,000 wounded fighting ISIS at America’s behest. The SDF guards the al-Hol camp where up to 70,000 ISIS families are detained,” the article continues.
He notes that Turkey’s actions are a result of Erdoğan’s ‘reflexive and rash response’ to the Istanbul bombing, which Turkey has, without proper investigation, blamed on the Kurds, and calls for a proper investigation with US assistance.
He also says that Erdoğan is not being truthful when he claims that the Kurds attack Turkey from Syria, saying:
“Erdogan says the SDF is a branch of the PKK, an armed group of Turkish Kurds struggling for greater political and cultural rights in Turkey. He claims Kurds use Syria as a base for operations against Turkey. These are mistruths.
Kurds never attacked Turkey from Syrian soil. There was one confrontation in 2018 when Turkey launched ‘Operation Olive Branch’ and attacked Afrin, a multiethnic city in Syria near the border with Turkey. The SDF responded with a pinprick artillery strike.”
Phillips points out that Turkey has long wanted a security buffer zone along its border with Syria, and that it occupies and controls parts of Syria, where there is sometimes fighting between the Kurds and Turkish troops with their jihadist proxies. He remarks that the Kurds have ‘bent over backwards to avoid escalation’.
Drawing attention to Erdoğan’s threats to invade northern Syria, Phillips also notes that by attacking the Kurds, Erdoğan is looking for nationalist support for the election next year. ‘Warring with the Kurds is good politics in Turkey’, he says.
Phillips says that the US has tried to de-escalate tensions in the region before, but that ‘the Biden administration is in a bind’ as it does not want to antagonise Turkey for fear of Erdoğan’s response with regard to Ukraine and Russia, and notes that Washington is also ‘largely silent in the face of Turkey’s domestic human rights abuses’.
He calls on President Biden to condemn Turkey and issue warnings of a price to pay for aggression. He ends his article saying:
“Silence is complicity. Turning a blind eye makes the US an accomplice to Turkey’s crimes.”