The Turks have now launched their long threatened military operation in northeast Syria, under the Orwellian name of "Operation Peace Spring." "Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area," said Erdogan today. Up through today, the Turks were working overtime to get international support for their planned military operation and plans for resettling up to two million Syrian refugees in the so-called safe zone they intend to create but it all seems to me to be so much double talk, so full of obvious contradictions as it is. The most obvious one is in almost every Turkish statement about Syria, the claim that Turkey respects Syria's sovereignty and territorial integrity. How can that be when prior to today, Turkey had already conducted two military cross border military operations in northern Aleppo province west of the Euphrates in violation of Syrian sovereignty, still occupies those areas and is, in the process, continuing to support armed groups that wish for the violent overthrow of the government in Damascus? Those with more expertise than I have will point to Erdogan's Ottoman ambitions for Turkey as a major motivator of his actions in Syria.
Turkish government spokesman Fahrettin Altun, in an op-ed published in the Washington Post late yesterday, claimed that during his phone call with Erdogan on Sunday, Trump agreed to transfer the leadership of the counter-Islamic State campaign to Turkey. He further claimed that "Turkey has no ambition in northeastern Syria except to neutralize a long-standing threat against Turkish citizens and to liberate the local population from the yoke of armed thugs."
Even more dubious is Altun's claim that Turkey "was the first country to deploy combat forces to fight the terrorists in Syria. Our country also helped the Free Syrian Army keep thousands of Islamic State militants behind bars for years." Erdogan and his AKP loyalists should be reminded that Turkey played a huge role in the cancerous growth of ISIS in Syria in 2015-2016 by allowing itself to be used as a corridor for the flow of foreign fighters into Syria, by providing a logistics base that kept ISIS well supplied with weapons, ammunition and other equipment, and serving as the market for oil that ISIS was smuggling out of Syria (an operation which was largely, and very visibly, destroyed by the Russians).
"It remains to be seen whether YPG militants will agree to the change in the campaign's leadership," Altun droned on. "Indeed, they have two options: If they are genuinely interested in fighting Islamic State, they can defect without delay. Or they can listen to their commanders, who say that they will fight the Turkish forces — in which case we will have no choice but to stop them from disrupting our counter-Islamic State efforts." This suggests that the Turks are saying that they're really going in to fight ISIS and will only fight the Kurds if they get in the way. The evidence of the last few years, however, suggests that Turkey's interest in fighting ISIS has been marginal at best while their focus has been mainly on the PYD/YPG and its alliance with the U.S. military. There is very little evidence, if any at all, of cross border terrorist attacks inside Turkey carried out by the PYD, though ISIS when it still control a large portion of Syria carried out several very large attacks in Istanbul and other cities in western Turkey.
Ibrahim Kalin, whose role as the face of Turkey and the AKP is second only to that of Erdogan himself, told CNN that Turkey is not occupying any part of Syria and has no desire to do so. "Turkey has no interest in occupying any part of Syria. We haven't done so in Jarablus when we fought against Daesh and eliminated 3,000 terrorists there," Kalin said, and continued: "Or when we entered Afrin, we have not occupied any part of Syria, we have returned those places to the local owners and residents, we have no intention of occupying any parts of Syria in the east of the Euphrates either, and also we have no interest in changing the demographics there." All the reports I've seen certainly indicate that the Turks are indeed in full control of Afrin and northern Aleppo, even if through Syrian Arab proxies. They likely intended to do the same thing east of the Euphrates except on a larger scale.
When asked about whether or not the Turkish resettlement plan will change the demographics, Kalin claimed that the PYD/YPG had already done that (and this may have some truth to it but it doesn't excuse the Turks). "It was the PKK/PYD that has changed the demographics there. The refugees in Turkey, which is about 3.5 million from Syria, will go back to the places where they have come from. We are not forcing anybody to go anywhere they don't want to go," he added. Again, my understanding is that most of the refugees in Turkey came from the western half of the country, the region ranging from Aleppo through Hama to Damascus. This is what has been asserted in critiques of the Turkish resettlement plan that I've seen.