On Wednesday, November 15, the SETA Foundation at Washington DC held a panel event on Turkey’s operation in Syria’s Idlib province. The panel was composed of Luke Coffey, the director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy at The Heritage Foundation; Kadir Ustun, the executive director of The SETA Foundation at Washington DC; and Nidal Betare, Director of Programs at People Demand Change. Kilic Kanat, the research director of the SETA Foundation at Washington DC served as moderator.
Nidal Betare began the event by discussing current events in Idlib, noting that since the beginning of the conflict, Idlib has taken in a large number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) as well as opposition groups from other parts of the country, leading to a current total population of 2,500,000 in Idlib alone. In Betare’s opinion, the current Turkish operation in Idlib province will help create a deconfliction zone that will prevent any further offensives by the Assad regime or Iranian militias against the province. Speaking on the future of ISIS in Syria, Betare stressed that a military defeat of ISIS must be followed by efforts to stabilize the area and reconstruction in order to prevent a resurgence of conflict caused by either the Iranian presence in Syria or by friction between Arabs and Kurds in northern Syria.
Kadir Ustun began by pointing out that since the beginning of the civil war, Turkey’s main activities in Syria have focused on supporting the opposition and on securing the Turkey-Syria border, which both allows Turkey to exert some control over the massive inflows of refugees and to also prevent the spread of terror groups. Over the past two or three years, Ustun noted that Turkey has become increasingly concerned about the PYD presence in northern Syria, leading to Operation Euphrates Shield which ensured that the PYD would not expand further west past the Euphrates River. The current operation in Idlib both allows Turkey to address continued concerns about the PYD while also creating a center of gravity around which it can attempt to rebuild a moderate Syrian opposition. All of this will further establish Turkey’s position as a power that can influence the final resolution of the Syrian crisis.
Luke Coffey brought up that while the US is not involved in Turkey’s operation in Idlib, it is deeply involved in northeast Syria with the Syrian Democratic Forces/PYD, a partnership which he suggested should be examined more closely by US policymakers. Not only did he raise concerns about the SDF and the PYD as organizations, Coffey also noted that the partnership has done significant damage to the US-Turkey relationship. Beyond the question of US ties to these groups in northern Syria, Coffey suggested that the US should re-examine its continued presence in Syria entirely after the capture of Raqqa, which he argued would be a waste of US resources and manpower at a time when there are far more pressing regional issues. Coffey argued that despite the recent difficulties in US-Turkey relations, both countries should recall that they have had a much longer history of strong ties and continue to share a number of strategic interests. Both should work to mend the relationship and find areas of cooperation to help do so.
Deconflicting In Syria: Turkey’s Idlib Operation