Turkey’s Air Raids Against Northeastern Syria Pose a Serious Security Challenge

On November 13th, a bombing in Istanbul, Turkey, left six dead and 81 people injured. The Turkish government blamed the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. The YPG denies any involvement in the Istanbul bombing. However, in retaliation for such an attack, the Turkish government bombed northern Syria and Iraq and has alleged a ground operation will follow.

In 2019 the Turkish government launched an offensive into northeastern Syria; before the offensive began, the Trump administration withdrew American troops from the area. Politico claim that the offensive aimed to push the YPG from the border and “establish a so-called ‘safe zone’ in parts of Syrian territory it seizes to which it plans to return refugees.” The invasion forced the Kurdish government to strike a deal with Syria, but at the same time, during the Turkish offensive, hundreds of ISIS supporters were reported to have escaped. As a result, the United States placed sanctions on Turkey, while the European Union condemned the offensive and pledged that its members would halt exports to Turkey. However, when it comes to the current threat of an offensive, the United States’ former officials and current analysts are unsure if the United States will be able to prevent further escalation.

The United States Department of Defence worked with the Kurdish Regional Government in 2016 to combat ISIS, but the United States’ relationship with the Kurds became tumultuous under the Trump administration. Nevertheless, under President Biden, the Department of Defence has committed to continuing its relationship with the Kurdish government “to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS.”

The Turkish government’s air raids in northern Syria have posed an issue due to the threat of a ground offensive. According to NBC News, the Syrian Democratic Forces are “concerned ISIS prisoners may escape from the detention facilities where thousands are held.” The fear behind this is that if the Turkish government commits a ground offensive, then the security of ISIS detention facilities and refugee camps in Syria will be at risk due to their fighters needing to be pulled to the front. If that does occur, the escape of ISIS fighters poses a security risk for the region and the West.

Turkey’s most recent actions are detrimental to regional security and the West in a region that needs more stability than conflict. Moreover, suppose a ground offensive does occur. In that case, the risk of ISIS fighters escaping detention is high because the resources needed to protect these detention camps would no longer be sustainable. Therefore, the United States must call an emergency session at the Security Council to condemn Turkey and call upon the international community to stand against a potential incursion by the Turkish government into northeastern Syria for global and regional safety. At the same time, the United States must back channel to do its best to push the Russian government to use its relationship with Turkey to try to prevent an invasion, since a less secure Syria will cause severe issues for Russia’s ally Bashar al-Assad.

With the recent attack in Istanbul, the Turkish government’s reprisal against the Kurds in northeastern Syria is cause for alarm. Not only due to the threat of ISIS fighters possibly being released if the Turkish government commits to a ground offensive, but also the instability it will cause in the region. Therefore, the United States and Russia must call upon Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to stop air raids and prevent him from committing to a ground offensive.