And for those in the U.S. Congress and the Department of Defense, institutions increasingly averse to Turkish interests, granting Turkey additional territory in Syria is a curse, not a blessing. The most likely outcome for the YPG following a U.S. withdrawal would be a deal with the Assad regime that ends its political autonomy but allows its forces to return as soldiers in the Syrian military. The prospect of tens of thousands of experienced, anti-Turkish fighters rejoining Assad is a nightmare scenario for Ankara. Syrian-Turkish relations have long been tense because Damascus has allowed PKK fighters, including Ocalan himself, to live in the country. Assad has never given up his desire to restore Syria’s territorial integrity and will almost certainly sanction attacks by former YPG fighters on Turkish forces stationed across Syria to force them to leave. With the prospect of similar efforts from Iranian proxy fighters, Turkey will face nothing short of a multi-pronged insurgency that exceeds its capacity to manage.
The Turkish military is already overextended in Syria, with about 8,000 to 10,00 soldiers stationed in-country. Even alongside Syrian mercenaries, this number is inadequate to secure Ankara’s 3,400 square miles of occupied territory. Turkey will be compelled to pour more resources into the theater to resist the combined efforts of Russia, Iran, and Syria to oust Turkish forces from Syria. Turkey will become the common enemy and will face something akin to the Balkan Wars of the early twentieth century, a bloody conflict that left the Ottoman Empire exhausted and prone to strategic realignment shortly before the outbreak of World War I. If the United States and its NATO allies consider Turkey to be a partner worth keeping—and both the size of its military and its contributions to NATO’s budget suggest that it is—then a situation placing Turkey in conflict with Russia is to their benefit. All that it requires is for the United States to end a forever war propping up a communist organization.
Mark Bhaskar is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of International Relations at the University of St. Andrews. His doctoral research focuses on empire-building in the twenty-first century, with a focus on the imperial strategies of modern China, Iran, and Turkey. He previously worked as military analyst in the United States covering the conflicts in Syria, Libya, and Nagorno-Karabakh.
This article first appeared at Merion West.