The Turkish offensive on the 9th of October 2019 against the Kurdish Syrian Defence Forces (SDF), called “Operation Peace Spring” has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in the Rojava region in Northeast Syria. The Turkish government has given direct and indirect support to senior ISIS members since Ankara’s invasion and greatly destabilized the region. Various news organizations have reported that the Turkish effort to create a ‘safe zone’ in Rojava has had worrying consequences for the international coalition’s efforts against ISIS’s continued activities and has directly lead to the terror groups resurgence.
As mentioned in several previous OWP reports the Turkish government’s Anti-terrorism rhetoric has been the basis for its incursion in Rojava; this is dangerously open-ended and officially the actions are a response to the Kurdish liberation group the PKK. The rhetoric also enables Ankara to categorize the Kurdish majority in the region as terrorist sympathizers. Ankara’s historic Kurdish xenophobia has allowed the Turkish government to take extraordinary steps in its military action, leading to the deaths of 478 and injuries to over 1000 civilians, according to the Humanitarian Affairs office. This has partly been caused by the documented arming and assistance by the Syrian National Army (SNA) of multiple Daesh members, as discovered by open-source intelligence (OSINT) information gathered by the Rojava Information Center (RIC).
The resurgence of Daesh is not simply an indirect consequence of Ankara’s invasion. Instead, both the RIC and Hawar News agencies have separately and independently documented over 60 members of ISIS that are currently fighting for militias under the command of the Turkish Syrian National Army (SNA). These fighters include Sufyan al-Qeshm, who participated in the kidnapping and murder of American, Peter Kasji, along with other senior ISIS commanders. Ankara’s use of these terrorists shows the international community that despite its pretenses Turkey is not against the spread of terrorism. Instead, Ankara actively encourages extremist individuals, to assist their war against the Kurdish people.
Despite the killing of Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by American forces. The Pentagon’s Inspector General and the United States Defence Intelligence Agency pinpoints the renewed resilience shown by Daesh is directly linked to the chaos caused by the Turkish invasion. This chaos has been of significant benefit to remaining Daesh sleeper cells and has resulted in a 48% rise in attacks, resulting in 38 attacks in the first 21 days after the invasion. These include a coordinated 3 car bombing that killed 6 and wounded 21 plus the assassination of various public figures including an Armenian Catholic priest and his father, as reported by both the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Aljazeera.
The increased strain placed on the SDF in the initial days of “Operation Peace Spring”, removed their ability to successfully detain and monitor all members of radical groups in its many holding facilities. The SDF made a statement via twitter on the 13th of October 2019 stating that “Securing ISIS detention centres or ISIS chasing sleeper cells is not our priority. We are solely focused on fighting Turkish aggression and protecting our people from it”. While the SDF has since resumed anti-Daesh operations they have been forced to significantly cut their operations by 75% from 2 raids a day to a raid every 2 days.
Turkey’s ongoing offensive will only set back the international war on terror. A resurgence of terrorist activity is already being witnessed despite the death of its most senior leader. Turkey must bow to international pressure and withdraw; if they refuse, the long-term cost will be unimaginable, and the conflict extended in perpetuity