Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Western powers to throw their support behind Turkey in Syria in an op-ed published in Bloomberg on Monday.
Erdogan presented Turkey as a stabilizing force in Syria despite the fact that Ankara played a crucial role in fueling the war in its early stages in 2011 by training and sheltering the opposition group known as the Free Syrian Army. Throughout the war, Turkey has backed various groups in Syria, including militias aligned with al-Qaeda affiliates.
In 2020, Turkey sent thousands of fighters into Idlib province to halt a Syrian government offensive to retake the territory. Idlib is currently controlled mostly by Hayat Tahir al-Sham (HTS), an al-Qaeda affiliate formerly known as al-Nusra Front.
Turkey tries not to directly support HTS due to its al-Qaeda affiliation, but there have been instances of Turkish-backed militants fighting alongside HTS, and Ankara is suspected of coordinating with the group.
But Erdogan insists the so-called “moderate rebels” of Syria have been wrongly smeared. “Unfortunately, the moderate rebels, our local partners, have become the target of a coordinated smear campaign despite their hard work and sacrifice to defeat ISIS and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, another designated terrorist organization,” Erdogan wrote in Bloomberg.
Erdogan said the most “sensible option” in Syria for Western powers is to “throw their weight behind Turkey and become part of the solution in Syria, at minimum cost and with maximum impact.” But one of Erdogan’s conditions for this plan is for the West to cut off support for Kurdish forces in northeast Syria, something the Biden administration would likely never go for.
“Primarily, we expect the West to adopt a clear position against YPG, the PKK’s Syrian branch,” Erdogan said. The YPG is part of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which the Biden administration quickly affirmed its support for.
While he doesn’t outright call for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Erdogan says Turkey and the West must “show the world that there is a democratic and prosperous alternative for Syria’s future.”
The US currently has approximately 900 troops in northeast Syria to occupy oil fields, keeping the vital resource out of Damascus’ hands. The US also maintains crippling economic sanctions on Syria that purposely target the country’s reconstruction effort. Due to the harsh sanctions, food shortages have reached a record high in Syria.