Category Archives: Turkey

The Idlib Offensive: Delayed, Not Cancelled

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 20 September 2018

For about two months, it has seemed that an offensive by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Iran, and Russia into Idlib was imminent, with disastrous humanitarian and strategic consequences. On Monday, an agreement was reached between Turkey and Russia that put a halt to this prospect, at least for now. There is good reason to think the pro-Assad forces are delaying, rather than cancelling, their plans to reconquer Idlib, but the extra time gives space to Turkey to alter the terms politically. Continue reading

Turkey’s War Against the PKK on the Near Abroad

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 21 August 2018

Ismail Özden (image source)

Turkey killed a senior operative of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the internationally-recognised terrorist organisation and narcotics trafficking entity that has been at war with the Turkish state since 1984, in Iraq last week. Turkey launched a wave of airstrikes against PKK targets in Syria and Iraq in April 2017 and for the last several months Ankara has been widening its campaign against the PKK outside Turkey’s borders, particularly in Iraq, where the PKK is not protected by the United States, as it is in eastern Syria. Having feinted in June toward an attack on the historic PKK headquarters in the Qandil Mountains—a somewhat symbolic target at this stage, with the bulk of the PKK’s leadership and resources in Syria—it appears the Turks have opted for a more targeted approach.

This operation underscores the continuance of U.S.-Turkey relations, and the mutual benefits of the relationship, even in its current damaged state, where both sides have a laundry list of legitimate grievances with the other. If a formula for normalisation can be found, the potential to contain and weaken some of the worst, most destabilising elements in the region, saliently the PKK and the Iranian regime, is within reach. Continue reading

Australia’s No-Nonsense Approach to the PKK

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 17 August 2018

Funeral for the victims of the TAK/PKK terrorist attack on the Besiktas football stadium in Istanbul, December 2016. Photograph: Sedat Suna/EPA

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the separatist group in Turkey that is a designated terrorist organisation across much of the West, has always used a vast array of front-groups in the West to raise funds and recruit. After 9/11, with the advent of the War on Terror, the PKK switched tactics in the region to try to conceal its operations and avoid the “terrorism” label. This involved rebranding its operations in Iraq, Syria, and Iran, and setting up a special forces-style urban terrorism wing, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), to deniably carry out its most atrocious activities. The PKK’s rebranding has not been without success. In Australia, however, the government has refused to accept the PKK’s propaganda about TAK and lists it, quite correctly, as simply an alias for the PKK. Continue reading

The Outlook for the America-Turkey Relationship is Bleak

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 15 August 2018

America’s imposition of sanctions on Turkey brings the relationship to its lowest ebb in more than forty years. Almost as soon as the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, came into office in 2002 there have been tensions in the relationship. These manageable differences escalated considerably during the time of President Barack Obama, primarily because of his Syria policy, and now threaten to boil over. The chances to soothe a vital strategic partnership appear to be slipping. Continue reading

Where Will the Syrian Regime Move Next?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 2 August 2018

An Israeli solider hands out water on a bus, during the Syria Civil Defence extraction from the Golan Heights // 22 July 2018, provided by Israeli Army to Reuters

The collapse of the opposition in southern Syria is the final destruction of the originally constituted rebellion against President Bashar Assad. It is also a demonstration that the United States under President Donald Trump is no more invested in shaping the outcome in Syria than his predecessor, and marks the potential end of the diplomatic pact that had allowed Turkey to retain some sphere of influence unmolested by the pro-Syrian government coalition. Continue reading

Turkey’s Upcoming Foreign Policy Challenges

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 12 July 2018

American troops look out toward the border with Turkey from a small outpost near the town of Minbij, 7 Feb. 2018 (AP Photo/Susannah George)

As Turkey moves past last month’s election, the foreign policy challenges remain acute, particularly in Syria, and there is a looming confrontation with the United States over sanctions on Iran that might undo the recent progress toward the normalisation of U.S.-Turkish relations. Continue reading

Turkey’s Syria Policy and the Elections

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 7 June 2018

Turkish soldiers and their rebel dependencies in Efrin, 18 March 2018 // AFP

On June 24, for the first time in 15 years, there seems a possibility, however faint, that elections in Turkey will end in defeat for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

It is an uphill battle, not least because of the ongoing state of emergency after the 2016 attempted coup, which has exacerbated the systemic biases against Erdoğan’s political opponents. But the Turkish opposition has managed to overcome its own fractiousness and has a strategic game-plan that makes sense. One card Erdoğan still has to play is foreign policy, and there are signs in Syria and Iraq of advantageous news to come. Continue reading